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THREE of the chapters of " The Home Life of 
Swinburne " have appeared as articles in the 
Nineteenth Century and After. I have to 
tender my thanks to the editor of that magazine 
for his permission to reprint them. 








" THAT ' LIMBER ELF ' " . . .39 






THE HOUSEMATES . . . . .67 


THE HAWTHORNS . . . . .78 



Miss ISABEL SWINBURNE . . . .88 






A POET'S FADS . . . . . 103 








TABLE TALK . . . . . .198 


MISCELLANEA ...... 217 

THE T\yo SWINBURNES . . . . . 240 




" Lost" TO SIGHT " . . . . . 266 


A POET'S GRAVE . v . . . .281 



Algernon Charles Swinburne. The last and best 

photograph .... Frontispiece 


Bust of A. C. Swinburne by Dressier . . .60 

A. C. Swinburne and T. Watts-Dunton. In the garden 

at The Pines . . . . . .74 

The garden at The Pines from the window of Swin- 
burne's study, showing the statue that came from 
Rossetti's garden . . . .102 

Swinburne at the age of four . . .142 

Swinburne as St. George in a cartoon by D. G. Rossetti 190 

Facsimile of Swinburne's handwriting. The opening 
and final sentences from the draft of the Dedicatory 
Epistle addressed to Watts-Dunton in the collected 
edition of the poet's works . . .192 

Facsimile of Swinburne's inscription in the set of 
his collected works presented by him to Clara 
Watts-Dunton . . . . .194 

Statuette of Victor Hugo. One of Swinburne's most 

cherished possessions .... 224 

The room in which Swinburne died . . .260 

Swinburne's grave (on the left) in Bonchurch 

Churchyard ..... 282 




MY mother, Mrs. Reich, met Watts-Dunton 
when I was a girl at school, and they were friends 
almost at once. She was a woman of fine musical 
ability besides being a keen judge of books and 
their authors, and she became a visitor at The 
Pines, Putney Hill, where Swinburne and his de- 
voted friend resided. I was sixteen years of age 
when my mother took me to visit Mr. Watts as 
Watts-Dunton was then called. In a chapter 
contributed to his biography I have described that 
visit and the wonderful change in my life which it 
preluded. It was the first step little though I 
dreamed it that led to my marriage to the great 
critic and brought me into domestic relationship 
with Algernon Charles Swinburne. I did not, 
however, see Swinburne on the occasion of my 
first visit to The Pines. A whole year elapsed 



before I was formally presented to the greatest 
English poet of his day. 

Exactly a week after this first visit a note came 
to my mother from Mr. Watts asking if we " would 
like to come and dine with Swinburne and me." 
It may, perhaps, be conjectured that this invita- 
tion thrilled me at least as much as my mother's 
proposal of the week before : ' ' I am going to take 
you to meet my friend Mr. Watts." As a matter 
of fact, the contrary was the case. The presence 
of the famous poet would, it seemed to me, 
interfere with the delightful flow of my newly- 
found friend's conversation. From my first visit 
I had come away in an ecstasy of admiration and 
exultation. I had gone merely pleased with the 
idea of meeting the author of a work which I 
loved the sonnet sequence on the Fausts of 
Berlioz, Gounod and Schumann. I had come away 
with a warm regard for the man. Until I met him 
again I lived in a state of longing anticipation. 
My school-lessons were neglected or forgotten in 
tribute to that unmistakable and arresting gift of 
personality which was his in marvellous measure. 
School-girl though I was, I could discern in him 
the divine gift of genius, and I had no desire to 
meet his famous friend since I found himself so 



In fact, an uncomfortable feeling of shyness 
came over me at the idea of meeting S.winburne. 
It was not that I feared to experience any sort 
of mauvaise honte, for I had no lack of the self- 
possession required by people unknown to fame 
on being presented to a celebrity. The fact was 
that at this juvenile period of my existence, 
Swinburne's poetry was " caviare " to me if not 
to " the general," and I imagined he would expect 
me to know a great deal about it in fact, to be 
a profound Swinburnian, though my actual excur- 
sions into the realms of his Muse had covered very 
little ground. It is true my Canadian governess at 
school had read to me portions of " Songs before 
Sunrise," and was never tired of telling me of the 
wonderful effect " Atalanta " had produced upon 
her when in 1865 she read this masterpiece for the 
first time in far-away Toronto. She would recite 
to me bits from the choruses, and I became 
quite accustomed to hearing her declaim at odd 
moments in a voice throbbing with a sense of 
their beauty that soul-stirring lyric which 

When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces, 

The mother of months in meadow or plain 
Fills the shadows and windy places 

With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain. 
B 17 


Often during our walk she would carry with her 
to read under the trees while the girls played 
rounders or tennis a volume of Swinburne in an 
American edition, the outside cover of which grew 
quite familiar to me. It was " Laus Veneris," 
the work now generally known as " Poems and 
Ballads." She would sit reading it, entirely 
absorbed and lost in its pages and oblivious of 
everything around her. If during a halt in our 
game I came near her to rest for a while, up would 
go her finger to admonish silence and a gentle 
4 ' Sh Sh ! ' would issue from her half-parted 
lips. When it was time to return to the house 
she would cause me to walk beside her, and then 
I would hear about " Anactoria " and other of 
the glorious pieces to be found within the covers 
of her cherished volume. She prized her " Laus 
Veneris ' ' very much, and had brought it with 
her from America. She was fond of telling me 
how eagerly after reading "Atalanta in Calydon " 
she had seized upon it when it first came out. 
But she never told me of the succes du scandale 
which its appearance evoked, although she must 
have known all about it. A good deal of water 
had to flow under London Bridge before I could 
put before the reader this interesting evidence of 
one of Swinburne's friends then resident in 



Boston, U.S.A. of the extraordinary sensation 
" Laus Veneris " caused in America in 1866. 

Dec. 2nd, 1866. 

To Algernon Swinburne, Pagan, suffering persecution 
from the Christians . . . greeting. 

You may have already heard, mon cher, that your book 
is making a furore in this continent. No new volume of 
Tennyson has ever made more talk. . . . The publisher 
has sold 6,000 and is now printing the seventh. Mr. 
Emerson, to whom I was introduced yesterday, asked me 
a great many questions about you. He had read your 
" Madonna Mia " detached and instantly got the book. 

Lowell, he said (" Biglow Papers " Lowell) being a 
linguist was especially interested in that department of 
your brain, his curiosity having been excited about your 
Greek verses and French songs. 

I have just read Eraser's article it is very fair. 
Longfellow was out when I called so I have not seen him. 
I am going back to New York to-morrow and I suppose 
I shall not return for some time. I shall very probably 
pass a year in that city and so finish my medical studies. 
You were good enough to say you wanted to read my 
African book which I promised to send you, but never 
did because I thought to do something better with the 
old materials. This I am going to work on now. It will 
be published at first only in America I will send you a 

Give my regards to our mutual friends and believe me, 

Yours truly, 


* William Winwood Reade (1838-1875) was a nephew of 
Charles Reade and the author of ** The Martyrdom of Man," 
Savage Africa," etc. 



In spite of all this admiration on the part of my 
governess for the poetry of Swinburne, Byron con- 
tinued to be my pet poet, and I never attempted to 
explore for myself the verse of this far greater 
singer. Consequently, having so meagre a 
knowledge of Swinburne the Poet, I was intimi- 
dated by the prospect of dining with Swinburne 
the man, and without considering what an honour 
had been paid me, I asked my mother to make 
some excuse for declining the invitation. I horribly 
wanted to go, but I was dominated by the idea 
that Swinburne would turn out to be that pet 
aversion of Don Juan 

An author that's all author, a fellow 
In foolscap uniform turned up with ink. 

I had lately been reading ' ' Don Juan, ' ' and was 
passing through that stage of adulation for my 
unsaintly hero which is the prerogative of many 
young people of a romantic tendency. I was 
never tired of airing emancipated and laudatory 
opinions regarding the poetry of Byron, and "Don 
Juan " in particular, to my governess. Being a 
real lover of poetry, she fostered any tastes in this 
direction among such of the girls as cared for poetry 
at all ; she was even something of a poet herself. 
Far from putting a check on my predilection for 
' ' Don Juan ' ' she invited me to dip into the 



precious " Laus Veneris " myself. So deep and 
sincere was her admiration for Swinburne that 
' Dolores " and " Faustine " were by no manner 
of means anathema to her, nor were they 
" forbidden fruit " to me. On the contrary, being 
an exceptionally broad-minded woman, she even 
encouraged me to read them. Whether I would 
have understood them is quite another thing. 
However, I had not read them, and my knowledge 
of Byron was of course of no use as a substitute, 
especially as I had received what I considered a 
great ' set back ' when, on venturing to remark to 
Mr. Watts that I considered Byron equal to 
Shakespeare, he replied : "I dare say he is at 
your age." Naturally I thought that perhaps 
Swinburne might not prove so kind. 

It would be just as well, I reflected, to allow 
time enough to elapse for my mind to be 
less inadequately equipped with a knowledge of 
Swinburne, not to mention a few other poets, 
before I went through the ordeal of a dinner with 
him. I wondered what fantastic whim could have 
induced Fortune to set her wheel moving in my 
direction, when just one turn more might have 
passed me by, and offered my opportunity to some- 
one far more deserving. Had it been possible, I 
would ungrudgingly have yielded my place in the 



Sun to any one of the scores of Swinburnian enthu- 
siasts who were so immeasurably more fitted than 
I to profit by such luck. I felt quite sorry that my 
poor governess could not change places with me ; 
she would not have felt on the horns of a dilemma. 

In the end I persuaded my mother to intimate 
my intention of calling at The Pines on the same 
evening appointed for dining with the two friends, 
but after dinner. By going after dinner I 
imagined I should be free to talk tete-a-tete to 
Mr. Watts, whom I shall henceforth call Walter, 
and that my explanation would be accepted in the 
right way. I felt he would listen to all I had to 
say with correct and real understanding. I was 
right in my surmise, for when I arrived at his 
house, at about eight-thirty, dinner was over, and 
he was alone, waiting to receive me in his charming 
dining-room which, contrary to a published 
account, is not connected by folding doors with the 
adjoining room. 

Almost the first object which caught my eye was 
the particularly beautiful mantelpiece, and as this 
work of art has been very erroneously described by 
a distinguished writer, I think it would not be 
amiss to give an accurate description of it. The 
mantelpiece, which is one of two exactly alike, the 
other being in the drawing-room, was made at the 



oldest pottery in England John Dwight's, 
established in 1671. They are made of glazed 
stoneware in lovely shades of blue and buff. They 
have been admired by every artist who has seen 
them, including no less a person than William 
Morris, and there are none like them in existence, 
as their production, though very original and 
charming, was found too expensive to be profitable. 

It was a lovely summer evening and Walter 
suggested we should stroll out into the garden. 
He invited me to partake of the biggest, fattest 
gooseberries I had ever seen that were weighing 
down the bushes. But I was far too happy and ex- 
cited to eat, and our talk which had begun at our 
auspicious meeting of the preceding Monday was 
resumed with a delightful freedom from restraint. 
He received all my small remarks on music and 
poetry and books with such patience and interest 
that I was sure my explanation with regard to 
Swinburne would be quite safe in his keeping. 

" Why did you not want to come to dinner ? ' 
he asked. " I told Swinburne he was to expect 
an ardent champion of ' Don Juan,' and I knew 
what a refreshing surprise he would receive when 
he met it in the person of yourself tell me the 
reason why you did not turn up? ' 

I felt no hesitation in telling him I would rather 



wait until I had read " Poems and Ballads " 
before I met the author. He seemed particularly 
amused at this explanation, and tried hard to grasp 
the meaning behind my words, but I failed to 
make him understand why I felt Swinburne would 
be aghast at my limitations, and that if I talked to 
him about " Don Juan " and omitted to speak of 
'' Poems and Ballads ' he would think me a 
dreadful little ignoramus. 

Instead of taking me seriously and I was 
terribly in earnest at the time he treated this 
latter portion of my confession as a huge joke. 
He laughed so long and so heartily that I won- 
dered with dismay what stupid thing I could have 
said. I begged him to tell why he was laughing. 
He either could not, or would not tell me, but 
wanted instead to carry me off and make me 
known to Swinburne there and then. But I was 
too engrossed in the exhilarating company of my 
friend to desire any interruptions. To walk 
about in such a charming garden listening to the 
conversation of my host was the greatest of treats 
to me. It was impossible to be long in his 
company without learning something from his rich 
scholarship or without becoming aware that his 
mind was a veritable storehouse. Far from his 
being obtrusively " bookish," there was a sympa- 



thetic giving of himself that actually made you 
imagine he was learning from you, instead of 
its being the other way about. That mag- 
netic power which attracted so many to him 
won from me an instinctive response. It was 
delicious to be in this cool, pretty garden sur- 
rounded on all sides by big shady trees, its high 
walls completely covered with thick ivy. From his 
study window overhead, Swinburne could look 
out on a perfect forest of green, and enjoy quite 
a striking view, for the large trees in the back- 
ground conveyed a sense of space and a feeling of 
distance which was not so apparent in the 
foreground where I stood. We stayed chatting 
until it grew dusk. The time had flown so swiftly 
that I had no idea how late it was till the arrival 
of a maid, sent by my mother to claim me, put 
an end to our delightful talk. 

When at the garden gate Walter said 
!< au revoir " with the assurance that we had many 
more such meetings to look forward to, I felt 
somewhat reconciled to the approach of the 
dreaded Monday which would see me back again 
at my desk and lesson-books. As we shook hands, I 
told him once again I felt really shy at the idea of 
meeting Swinburne, and meant every word I had 
said. But he waived all my scruples to one side 



with the remark that he knew I was joking. With 
a confident and reassuring smile he concluded : 
4 All right then ; it shall be as you wish, but you 
need not be afraid to meet Swinburne you are 
sure to like him ; if you feel you are not quite ready 
to meet him, tell me when you think you are, and 
I know at your first meeting all your fears will be 
at an end " adding, however, in a tone meant to 
be quite reassuring, that " Poems and Ballads ' 
would be about the last thing their author would 
expect me to discuss or talk about to him. He 
also said that if I " let myself go "on the amusing 
subject of " Don Juan," Swinburne would only 
be refreshed. 

I returned to school very full of my adventures 
of the week-end and brimming over with 
enthusiasm at the success of my garden talk. 

This was tremendous news to tell my Swin- 
burnian governess. She was profoundly interested 
in all I had to tell her. Our walk that Monday 
was marked with a white stone. In spite of its 
being a " French morning," when all one's talk 
with her had to be in French, I insisted on walking 
with her both to and from the "garden," as we 
called the school's recreation ground. Instead of 
wishing to " shunt " the exercise of that language 
by walking with one of the girls, I opened the ball 


myself by suggesting, " Puis-je marcher avec vous 
ce matin, cherie? ' I was bubbling over with 
excitement, and in my indifferent French kept up 
a flow of reminiscent talk, knowing I was pouring 
it all into a ready and sympathetic ear. I can hear 
the interested tones of her voice now as she asks 
some question : *' Je suppose que M. Swinburne?" 
or : " Est-ce que M. Watts vous a dit? ' 

With such an exceptionally happy start, I was 
not going to allow the grass to grow under my 
feet in acquiring all the knowledge I could about 
Swinburne's poetry. I was fired by the desire to 
become acquainted with "Poems and Ballads," and 
for a year in the interval of lessons I read nearly 
everything of Swinburne's I could lay hands on. I 
was determined when I met him that he should 
not find me the proverbial " Miss " of Byronic 
satire, who " always smells of bread and butter." 

Swinburne at this time had just completed "The 
Tale of Balen," and Walter, thinking it would 
please me to see the handwriting of the Bard (as 
A. C. S. was often styled and as I shall often style 
him) gave me the MS. to read. Perceiving also that 
my writing was clear enough to prove " a bit of 
fat " for the printers, he asked me to make a copy 
of Swinburne's MS., so that my copy could go to 
be set up in type. 



This was the first occasion that my eyes lighted on 
the familiar blue paper on which Swinburne 
invariably wrote. As I transferred his words to 
my foolscap I noticed how very perfect the MS. 
was : there were hardly any revisions : it seemed 
to me that the whole long poem must have simply 
flowed from his pen. But what struck me most 
was the singular boyishness of the handwriting, 
which despite its appearance of youth, was well- 
formed and particularly characteristic. One could 
imagine it to be the writing of a schoolboy of 
thirteen or fourteen, so distinct and easy to read 
was every word. Every up-stroke and down- 
stroke of his beautifully neat letters suggested the 
firm writing of a boy with the mechanism of mind 
and body in perfect order. 

How proud I felt to be given this task, and 
very carefully did I copy the great poet's words 
in my big round hand, never dreaming as I 
did so that one day I myself would play my 
part in the home life of these two inseparable 

But perhaps even as I copied the first stanza of 
" Balen, 7 ' some fairy knew that years later I would 
be literally dancing to its measure in the company 
of him who wrote it. 




AFTER this garden-talk Walter and I were con- 
stantly in each other's society and I was so often a 
visitor to The Pines that my encounters with 
Swinburne were frequent. I would meet him in 
the hall or the passages, and although he did not 
appear to see me, he would stand like a sentinel 
while I passed ; his arms stiff against his sides, with 
the palms presented outwards, gave him a curiously 
mechanical appearance as of a toy-soldier. On 
these occasions I felt somewhat Overawed, for 
Swinburne would look at me with such a wondering 
look, as much as to say " Who are you, and what 
are you doing here?" Then he would bow very 
courteously, and disappear into his room. 

Late one afternoon in winter when the snow 
was on the ground and all was cold and dreary 
outside, I happened to be passing his room, and 


looking in upon him through the half -open door, I 
saw him seated by the fire with a book in his hand. 
He was laughing over something he was reading 
and gave little gurgles of delight. It all looked 
so delightfully cosy, with the curtains drawn, 
the big fire burning, and Swinburne sitting near it, 
looking so blithe and gay, that, wondering what 
he had found in the book to make him feel so 
jolly, I thought, for a moment, I must go in and 
ask him. Of course I did not go in, but I went 
downstairs and told Walter I felt tempted to do 
so. He seemed quite pleased, and suggested that 
the next day Swinburne and I should make our 
first salutation. Accordingly, the following after- 
noon Walter took me upstairs into the Bard's 
sanctum and there at last we became known to each 

Swinburne was reading when we came into the 
room, and seeing who had entered, he laid the book 
aside, face downwards, and came forward with 
extended hand to meet me. 

One might have supposed that my former 
encounters would have made my face somewhat 
familiar to him, since all the details of his 
physiognomy were indelibly stamped on my mental 
vision. But it was not so ; he appeared to be 
meeting me for the first time. As he gave me one 



of his old-world bows, I felt he really had never 
noticed me before that day. The poet then drew 
forward a chair, and with somewhat elaborate 
politeness, invited me to sit down. Then from 
the depths of a dark recess in a corner he drew forth 
a wonderful-looking volume he must have known 
just where to put his hand on it even in the dark, 
for the room was full of shadows, and illuminated 
only by candles. He hugged it gleefully to him, 
and in a boyish ringing voice exclaimed : " Now I 
am going to show you something that will surprise 
you. I wager you've never seen such a book as 
this." And indeed it was a most remarkable book, 
the like of which I had never seen before. 

He brought his chair close to mine, and opening 
a page at random, he pointed to the most extra- 
ordinary specimen of the feathered tribe. As far 
as the body and beak were concerned, this " bird ' 
did not belie its name, but the creature appeared 
to possess a neck far more like that of a giraffe 
than anything else. The head was so curious, too, 
and in its eye was a most audacious twinkle. 
Swinburne pointed to this impossible neck with 
delight, and excitedly asked, " Did you ever see 
such a bird as that in your life? ' He spoke in 
what I can only describe as an angelically kinder- 
garten manner. I thought that perhaps he had 



under-estimated my age by a decade, for, ignorant 
of the rarity and antiquarian interest of the book I 
imagined that it was a book for children of tender 
years, for whose delectation the poet was wont 
to exhibit it. As he obviously expected me to 
reply in equally emphatic language, I replied that 
I certainly had never seen such a queer-looking 
bird before, and never dreamed such a one had 
even existed. " But is it really supposed to be a 
bird ?" I asked. 

" Oh, yes," said Swinburne, very earnestly. " I 
never for moment hazarded such a doubt," 

I had to believe it then. But noticing there was 
a verse underneath the picture which might give 
me a key to the riddle, I turned to the page again 
and tried to read it. This was beyond me, for the 
type in which it was written was almost impossible 
for me to decipher. I asked Swinburne to read 
it to me : he instantly complied, and in the most 
amusing rhyme it is possible to imagine, I was 
given the description and veritable history of his 
mysterious " bird." The book was made up of 
the queerest creatures of natural history, and the 
next page revealed yet another weird specimen 
which made me know at once that Swinburne had 
been playing a practical joke on me in allowing me 
to imagine in the first instance that the animals 



illustrated were like anything in heaven or on 

In the most ingratiating manner he proceeded 
to show me what professed to be a cat. The 
Bard's face was wreathed in smiles as he exclaimed, 
" Oh, but do look at this. What a dear creature ! " 

The " dear creature " had a human face, and 
rather an ugly face, too, I thought. Being anxious 
to know if this four-footed specimen of creation 
was of the male or female gender, I again 
requested Swinburne to read from the verse under- 
neath. He was overjoyed to do so, but unfortu- 
nately we failed to arrive at any definite conclusion 
although this rhymed description was even 
funnier than the one about the " bird." When I 
suggested that this ambiguous grimalkin was 
possibly a woman, Swinburne was quite ready to 
fall in with my idea, and laughingly said, "Ah, 
you are right ; yes, of course, it's pretty certain 
to be a woman." 

The volume containing these pictures was really 
a fragment of a much larger book, and one of the 
very earliest illustrated volumes ever printed. I 
think Swinburne said it was about four hundred 
years old. I am sorry to say I cannot remember 
its name. Perhaps some of my readers will 
identify ft from my description. I may add that 
c 33 


the pictures included a man-headed serpent of 
repellent visage, a mermaid with a smiling coun- 
tenance, sirens of alluring appearance, grotesque 
camels and impossibly-formed monkeys. Each 
creature was the subject of a descriptive stanza so 
ludicrous that it was difficult for Swinburne to 
read it without laughing outright. 

One or two of the pages were torn here and 
there. Supposing it might have been the 
youthful Algernon who had mutilated them, I 
enquired if he had done so when he was a little boy. 

He looked quite pained, and said he was thank- 
ful he had not committed such a heinous offence, 
but he suspected that some naughty little child 
hundreds and hundreds of years ago was the culprit. 

I really think Swinburne prized this blackletter 
fragment more than any other book in his valuable 
library. He treated it with a reverence which did 
not escape my notice. I could see he was very 
nervous at my handling it, and preferred to turn 
the leaves himself. He said in a touching voice, 
full of quiet pathos, " My dear mother gave me 
this book." 

By this time the feeling of shyness and awe with 
which the poet had hitherto inspired me was dis- 
pelled. I began to feel quite at home in his 
company, and thoroughly at my ease. I wanted 



to tell him I had read " The Tale of Balen," and 
when there was a pause in the conversation, I told 
him how much I had enjoyed reading this poem. 
He seemed delighted to hear me say so, and said : 
" Have you though? I am very pleased you like 

Knowing he was a Northumbrian, I thought 
perhaps he might be interested to hear I knew 
well the rugged beauties of Northumberland, and 
was familiar with that part of the coast in which 
" Balen " is laid. When I told him this, he was 
still more delighted. But when I proceeded to 
add that I, too, was a Northumbrian, and was born 
and had spent my early childhood by the sea 
within twenty miles of Capheaton, he was quite 
astonished, and a French locution, ever afterwards 
to be associated in my mind with him, escaped 
from his lips. Looking hard at me out of those 
wonderful eyes, he ejaculated two or three times 
the word " Tiens I " 

On a table at my elbow near where I was 
sitting, I could read the title of the book he had 
been reading when we came in. It was " Uncle 
Bernac " by Conan Doyle. Taking the volume 
up, I asked Swinburne if it was exciting and if he 
had ever read " The Adventures of Sherlock 



He ignored my first question, but answered 
the second by repeating in large capitals, 
Walter." The two friends exchanged glances, 
and loud guffaws followed the torrent of remini- 
scent talk regarding the miraculous intuitive and 
deductive powers of the epoch-making detective, 
whom the poet considered a " marvellous man," 
and pronounced a " great lark." It seems that 
in common with nearly every schoolboy in the 
kingdom, as well as thousands of people of both 
sexes who are no longer at school, he had revelled 
vicariously in the experiences of his " marvellous" 
friend. He told me he had read every adventure 
as they appeared in the Strand Magazine, and 
that he liked nothing better than a good detective 
story ; the more thrilling the better he liked it. I 
said I had gone through the same phase myself, 
and had read and enjoyed most of the "Adven- 
tures." Then turning to me he enquired : "But 
have you read ' The Sign of Four,' and * A 
Study in Scarlet? ' I warrant these two stories 
will not disappoint you, and will provide you with 
all the 'thrills ' you want." 

I told him I had not done so, but, if they were 
half as interesting as some of Sherlock Holmes' 



dventures, I would certainly take his advice and 
read them. 

I never imagined that my answer in the 
negative would result in my becoming the possessor 
of these books in a most charming way. 

At the conclusion of my delightful little visit, 
Swinburne urged me to come as often as I liked 
to " look at the animal book," and told me that 
when I came again he would show me some of his 
rare first editions of the Dramatists. I assured 
him I would soon avail myself of his invitation, 
and with another gracious bow at departure, and a 
cordial hand-shake, we bade each other good after- 
noon and " au revoir." I was charmed with him, 
and when Walter and I went downstairs I told 
him that never again should I be nervous with 

Looking over that book with him, I felt that we 
were contemporaries, and that I had spent the 
afternoon in the company of a brilliant, intellectual 
and enthusiastic boy, so young was he in heart 
and spirit. He looked so full of life and vigour 
that one forgot his years, such light was in his 
eyes, such warmth in his smile, and he seemed so 
blissfully happy, surrounded by his thousands of 
books which lined the room from floor to ceiling. 

This lithe, energetic man of genius literally 



radiated Happiness. His whole environment spoke 
of the peace of mind and harmony of life which had 
been his from the moment he had set foot within 
The Pines. 

The almost adoring expression which came into 
Swinburne's eyes when they looked at Walter 
made me realize how deeply and gratefully con- 
scious he was of the incalculable blessing the 
magnetic presence of his friend had been to him 
all the happy years he had spent under his roof. 
Owing to Walter's vigilance and his interposition 
between the poet and the interfering prose of life 
which would have spelt damnation to Swinburne's 
art and temperament the latter was enabled to 
bring forth his later immortal works. In this 
atmosphere of repose and freedom from worry, one 
felt that Time had nothing to do with him, and that 
he might go on living and working for ever. 

Walter's self-effacement surprised me then and 
astonished me later. The tender solicitude and 
unremitting care which he lavished upon Swin- 
burne, heedless of his own sacrifice of strength and 
leisure for artistic achievement so long as he 
furthered the welfare of " the dear fellow," as he 
sometimes called the Bard, are unparalleled in the 
annals of literary friendships. 




FOR some time I had had access to Walter's library, 
a literary workshop that contained upwards of 
eight thousand volumes. Books were everywhere, 
towering from floor to ceiling ; they filled immense 
bookcases and little bookcases, and occupied every 
table and chair in the room and nearly all the 
available floor-space besides. The effect of this 
mountain of tomes all around me was somewhat 
staggering until I got used to it, then it actually 
grew upon me, and I became so accustomed to the 
delightful disorder that I was quite miserable when 
the day came for tidying up. All you had to 
do was to stand in the middle of it all, and 
after surveying it calmly, shut your eyes, 
and then make a random bee-line with your 
finger for a book and trust that this childish 
method of procedure would bring you the luck 



of " Little Jack Horner " when he pulled out a 

This was invariably my habit when let loose 
among Walter's books, and 1 it nearly always 
brought a plum to me. 

So lucky was I in hitting upon some unusual 
volume amidst this heterogeneous collection that I 
earned for myself the sobriquet of " limber elf." 
Walter declared this almost uncanny method or 
rather want of method so productive of special 
" finds ' which I never set out to obtain 
reminded him of the child in Coleridge's 
" Christabel "- 

A little child, a limber elf, 
Singing, dancing to itself 
A fairy thing with red round cheeks, 
That always finds, and never seeks. 

One day I lighted on a volume which instantly 
riveted me. I knew at once that I had " struck 
oil " and had stumbled across something of more 
than common interest. 

It was a presentation book to Walter from 
Swinburne, and at the beginning was written in 
the poet's handwriting a sonnet on Massinger. 
And delightful discovery this was a book of 
plays, and I loved reading plays. I looked 



eagerly through it to find " A New Way to 
Pay Old Debts," the name of which I knew 
well. Ever since hearing this delightful title at 
school during one of our weekly lectures on litera- 
ture, I had wanted to read this play, but so far I 
had never had an opportunity of doing so. I was 
naturally overjoyed to see it here in print before 
my eyes, and immediately began to devour it. 
So interested did I become in its pages that I 
was unaware of the presence of Walter at my 
elbow. His " What has that ' limber elf ' got 
hold of now?" brought me back to my surround- 
ings. He was highly amused at my seizing upon 
this particular book among the thousands in the 
room. Handing him the volume that had so 
absorbed me, I asked him to tell me about it, for 
I was anxious to know why Swinburne had written 
this sonnet in his inscribed copy. Latterly I had 
heard so much about Swinburne's interesting 
quartos that I was considerably puzzled and wanted 
to know just exactly wEat they were. Walter did 
not at once answer my question, but told me to 
take care of the Massinger while he hunted round 
himself in order to show me the other copies of 
Elizabethan plays which Swinburne had given him. 
He soon discovered some others I forget now 
which they were, though I know there was a Ben 



Jonson, but I remember that in each Swinburne 
had written a eulogistic and impassioned sonnet 
addressed to the author and redolent of intense 

Then Walter told me about his friend's 
adoration of the Elizabethan dramatists, and his 
profound knowledge on the subject, and prepared 
me for the feast that was awaiting me when I went 
to see the poet's collection of first editions. 

This made me even more eager to finish reading 
"A New Way to Pay Old Debts," which the 
entrance of Walter had interrupted. I found the 
play so intensely interesting that I was impatient 
to go on with it, so after he had carefully put away 
the other plays in a place of safety, he left me to 
continue my fascinating pursuit. 

Perhaps I may be excused for telling a story of 
my school days, bearing on Massinger's famous 

Every time I was in arrears over my monthly 
debts to the school fine-box the title of this play 
would roll glibly off my tongue. It became a sort 
of by- word in my mouth, for I delighted in the 
very sound of the words which I used on every 
pretext and I detested to pay up. My fines far 



exceeded those of any of the other girls, and when 
my "bad marks," which cost the large sum of a 
penny each, were added up at the beginning of 
every month, I never had enough money to pay 
in full. Then out would come this very appro- 
priate title. 

To get out of the difficulty I would ask to have 
the debt "carried over ' to the next month. 
My governess, who was really quite fond of me, 
never insisted on my paying up to the last fraction, 
or thereby I should have been bereft of pocket- 
money for the whole of the ensuing month. 
According to what sort of temper she happened to 
be in at the time, she would allow me to pay so 
much " on account." My usual average was about 
two or three "bad marks" a day, and at the 
end of one term I was asked, I remember, to pay 
my arrears to the tune of eighteen shillings ! This 
" account rendered " scared me; I had not such 
a sum in my possession. Nothing daunted, how- 
ever, I suggested that it should be put down in the 
school bill as "drawing materials." I was dis- 
appointed that my suggestion did not meet with 
approval. My governess pretended to be shocked 
at such a Machiavellian scheme. But as she was 
in a very sweet mood (the end of the term 
accounting for this, no doubt) I felt a little 



wheedling on my part would do no harm. Three 
minutes of this treatment proved so effective that it 
brought forth two excellent results. My fine was 
reduced to half, and my soft-hearted governess 
confessed that she considered I had not really 
deserved any more fines than some of the girls who 
only had to pay nine shillings for the whole term. 

The reading of Massinger's play marked my 
introduction to the Elizabethan dramatists. When 
I reflected that Swinburne had embarked with 
intense enthusiasm on the study of the Elizabethan 
dramatic poets at the time of his early school days 
or as he expressed it to me later, " when I was 
a kid at Eton" and had pursued the study with 
ardour and energy ever since, it made me quite 
angry to think how I had been encouraged to read 
Racine and Moliere, while the early English play- 
wrights were known to me by name only. 

Of course I could only suppose the French 
dramatists were convenable for the '" English 
Meess," while the old English dramatists were not 
considered fit reading for the " young person." 
However, I started making up for lost time, and 
fortified by the perusal of Massinger's comedy, I 
felt I could now face Swinburne with more con- 



fidence, as I had at least made a start with the 
Elizabethans. A few days afterwards I met him 
on the door-step going out of the house on his walk 
to Wimbledon. Although I expected he had by 
this time forgotten all about me, I was agreeably 
surprised to find he had not done so. 

I reminded him of his promise to show me his 
quartos. In awaiting his answer, I was not at 
all sure that he would remember having said any- 
thing about such a favour. 

But he had not forgotten, and said he would be 
pleased to see me that very afternoon. For my 
part I looked forward to visiting him again with 
a very keen pleasure. 

Swinburne's time for receiving visitors was 
always in the afternoon about four, so without his 
fixing the time, I knew I had to present myself 
at that hour. 

There is many a slip between the cup and the lip, 
and I was astonished soon after lunch to receive 
this telegram from Walter: "Postpone visit 
until to-morrow." The telegram was followed in 
the evening by a rather enigmatic lettter, telling 
me that Swinburne had changed his mind and 
preferred my going the next day, " as something 
he is giving you has not arrived, but is certain to be 
there if you will call at 4-30 to-morrow afternoon." 



Needless to say, I was full of curiosity, and 
arrived the next day long before the appointed 
time, bent on hearing all about it from Walter. 
Although I questioned him, as he declared, " like 
an Old Bailey barrister," I could get nothing out 
of him. My reiterated entreaties for enlighten- 
ment only produced repeated shakes of the head 
from left to right indicating " No," and the 
answer, " I promised Swinburne I would not tell 
you." Not another word on the subject could 
I drag from him. The longer I questioned him, 
the more decided became the head-shaking, 
and the merrier and more prolonged grew his 
chuckles. He seemed positively to enjoy my 
suspense. His remonstrance, " Now, Serjeant 
Ballantyne, don't you look at me like that " (as I 
gave him a final glance full of withering reproach), 
induced me to accept the inevitable and abandon 
any further attempts at cross-questioning. I had 
perforce to possess my soul in patience until I 
could learn the truth from the lips of Swinburne. 
I had not long to wait. 

We had changed the subject and were talking of 
other things, when Swinburne himself appeared 
on the threshold. He came forward, and in a 
manner most cordial and gracious shook me warmly 
by the hand, and, signalling me to follow him, led 



the way upstairs to his sanctum. Without any 
preliminary talk, or explanation of the slightest 
kind, he pointed to a neat little case of books on 
the mantelpiece. Of course I was nonplussed. 
Swinburne never uttered a word, but continued to 
wave his hand towards the books without speaking 
unless the soft hilarious whistle he emitted, in 
low staccato snatches, could be designated a form 
of speech, and for a moment or two I did not know 
what to say or do. But looking up for an instant 
from the books to his face, I understood from his 
dancing eyes and laughing expression the nature 
of " the secret." He had anticipated my wishes 
and procured from his bookseller at Wimbledon 
the very fiction I said I wanted. The books 
included two volumes of " The Adventures of 
Sherlock Holmes," " Rodney Stone," " A Study 
in Scarlet," and " The Sign of Four." Then it 
appeared that Swinburne had made Walter 
promise I should be kept in the dark until the 
right moment came, and that he should be the 
one to tell me that the non-arrival of the books at 
the promised time was the reason of the postpone- 
ment of my visit. 

This little incident initiated me into Swinburne's 
naive and child-like methods of working out any 
little scheme. Charming traits of character of this 



kind were so frequently peeping out from him that 
it was difficult to think of him as the great poet 
whom all recognised as a King of Song. But it was 
only at first that it was puzzling, and before long I 
appreciated his boyish ways as characteristic of a 
personality which had all the transparency and 
poetic qualities of an elfin child who was at the same 
time a superlatively-gifted man. 

The child-side of Swinburne appealed very 
strongly to Walter, who understood his curiously 
complex nature as did no other living being. I 
remember that once when, soon after his 
companion's death, I spoke of it to him, a far-away 
look of wistful tenderness came into his face. 
While the tears gathered in his eyes at the recollec- 
tion, he turned to me and said : 

" Dear Algernon, he was the simplest and 
noblest-minded creature in the world, by far 
the greatest poet, and one of the most lovable men 
I ever knew." 




IT would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast 
between the idiosyncrasies of two men living under 
the same roof than that presented by the difference 
between Swinburne's tidy retreat upstairs and 
Walter's untidy workroom downstairs. 

Coming direct from one into the other was 
positively startling, the difference being so marked 
as to suggest a sudden change from one country 
to another, such as genii could bring about in fairy 

I was conscious of a feeling of exaltation and 
repose in Swinburne's surroundings. The stillness 
and the tidiness had the quieting effect on the 
nerves that one feels on entering a cool cathedral 
on a hot day. The very aspect of the room 
breathed forth the spirit of its occupant's lofty 
purpose in life. 

D 49 


Passionate book-lover that he was, he had 
arranged his treasures very carefully. Everything 
was in its place. At a first glance the room 
seemed to contain little besides books, but however 
much they might monopolise one's attention, it 
was impossible not to notice Swinburne's duster. 
It was so very obtrusive that you wondered why 
the back of a cane-seated Empire chair was chosen 
for the display of the red and yellow-checked affair 
which hung over it. But there it was, an object of 
undignified importance, gaily disporting itself 
almost in the middle of the room. I learned 
that it was one of the poet's little fads to have his 
own special duster always in sight, and easily got 
at whenever he had occasion to use it. And this 
was very often. He had a horror of even touching 
a dusty book, so, to be sure his library was kept 
in apple-pie order, he took the precaution of 
looking after his books himself. If he wanted 
to show you any particular book, he would first of 
all see that not a speck was on it. I can see him 
now, duster in hand, going carefully over the edges 
and cover to satisfy himself that all was as it should 
be before placing the volume in your hands. From 
that day, whenever I happened to enter his room, 
until the day he lay dying in this same room 
in which I now write these lines, I always saw 



Swinburne's homely duster spread out in the funny 
.way I have described. 

The overflow of books which could not gain 
admittance to his shelves, found sanctuary on the 
wide sofa near the window, the same sofa on which 
Swinburne rested and sometimes slept in his Great 
James Street days. It was an uncommonly long 
sofa, and filled more than half one side of 
the room not taken up by bookcases. But at The 
Pines, in my time, he never used it to rest on ; it 
was reserved solely for the repose of books, which 
were piled high on it from end to end, not a 
square inch being available for a seat. 

He would invariably sit on an easy chair with a 
circular back decorated with gold, the arms 
of which terminated in gold-covered rams' heads. 
There were two of these chairs in Tiis study, 
and on the occasion of which I speak he pulled 
one out of a corner and invited me to sit 
on it, courteously remarking that he knew it to 
be comfortable. He himself remained standing, 
hovering over the writing-table, with fluttering 
hands and breathing audibly in an excited way. 
And now, with a look absolutely radiating with 
pride of possession, he turned my attention to a 
bundle of very old and rather shabby-looking 



I knew these must be the precious quartos of 
first editions of the Dramatists, and when he took 
up one to inspect it before pointing out its manifold 
beauties to me, he uttered a rapturous "Ah!" as 
if he were looking at it for the first time and had 
discovered something new in it he had not noticed 
before. The handling of the volume seemed to 
afford him such delight that he could not refrain 
from making curious little sounds, as if his mouth 
were watering in anticipation of the succulent 
flavour of a peach. He was in no haste for me to 
inspect it, but turned to another and yet another 
volume over which he repeated the same perform- 
ance, for all the world like a connoisseur, who, 
in order to enjoy the full flavour of a wine, 
inhales the bbuquet first. Wihile the poet was 
inarticulately ecstasising, I was able to take a 
cursory glance at some of the volumes, in the hope 
that I might find a Massinger among them. I was 
becoming nervous at the rather long silence and 
wondered when Swinburne would break it. 

How thankful I was I had a topic all ready, and 
could land on safe ground, and I began by telling 
him I had read "A New Way to Pay Old Debts." 
The news acted like a charm. I could not have 
hit upon a happier announcement, for, at the mere 
mention of this comedy, he became most animated, 


and his words poured forth like a torrent. He 
now brought forward his treasures with all the 
delight of a schoolboy showing his prizes. 

With delicious naivete he immediately jumped 
to the conclusion that I was an ardent student of 
the Elizabethan Dramatists. He took it for 
granted I had actually read all sorts of Elizabethan 
plays and shared his taste for them. 

Poor Swinburne, child-like and simple in many 
ways, was especially so in this one. He could not 
conceive that one did not take his point of view 
about everything. Afterwards, when I saw him 
nearly every day and came to know him better, the 
mere mention by me of a book or a poem with 
which he was familiar and known to me perhaps 
only by name was quite sufficient for him to 
attribute to me a far greater knowledge of it than 
I actually possessed. I can't help smiling now 
when I think of it. 

As he went on expatiating his enthusiasm grow- 
ing with every play to which he called my attention 
I began to repent of my first rash admission. I 
know next to nothing of these Elizabethans 
or their plays, and not without difficulty could 
I have made out a line of the old-world type 
in which some of them were printed. With a 
rapt look he gazed upon this archaic typography, 



and as he tapped the page lovingly with his finger, 
he ejaculated, "Ah ! Ah !" in a soft laughing tone 
as he raised his eyes to the ceiling. It was 
delightful to see him thus, but I felt instinctively 
the radiant look would at once vanish from his face 
if I told him that his idols were strangers to me. I 
had not the heart to disillusionise Eim, and I 
refrained from doing so. 

Taking my courage in both hands I made an 
attempt to turn the discussion into another 
channel. My attempt did not meet with the 
success I thought it deserved. Swinburne looked at 
me with a shocked expression. What had aroused 
his indignation I did not discover till afterwards. 
Walter subsequently explained to me that if there 
was a thing in the world more than another that 
nettled the poet it was to have his conversation 
interrupted especially if he happened to be 
holding forth on a favourite topic. On this 
occasion Swinburne's chivalry saved me from 
any spoken reproof, and I proceeded quite 
airily to talk about our friend Lady Archibald 
Campbell's production of " The Faithful Shep- 
herdesse," in Coombe Wood, wherein she enacted 
the part of Perigot. But here again I was fated 
to upset the equanimity of my friend. I had 
alluded to the play as by " Beaumont and 



Fletcher." The mention of the word Beaumont 
seemed to affect Swinburne as though one had 
offered him a personal insult. He glared, he 
shrugged his shoulders in a panic-stricken sort of 
way as one who despaired of the ignorance of the 
world. "Fletcher onlyl" he declared with 
tremendous emphasis. " Beaumont never wrote 
a line of it ! ' I dare not ask him how I was 
expected to know that ; Beaumont and Fletcher 
were to me as inseparable as Marshall and 
Snelgrove or Darby and Joan. 

It was curious to notice how a literary lapse of 
this kind roused Swinburne to fury. To me the 
point did not seem to matter much one way or 
the other. When betrayed into these little gusts 
of ill-temper in my presence, he was almost imme- 
diately penitent, and his contrition was as 
wonderful an expression of himself as had been his 
annoyance. After a while he began to talk quite 
amicably and reasonably about John Fletcher. He 
told me that when he went for his morning walk 
on the Common he always felt that Fletcher had 
once traversed the same spaces. He explained 
that Fletcher had lived for some time at Fulham 
Palace ; that there was contemporary evidence to 
show that the dramatist had often walked about 
the Wimbledon stretches of woodland while 



staying at the Palace on the other side of 
the .water, and that it was while wandering 
in Richmond Forest that he conceived the idea 
of " The Faithful Shepherdesse." " Ah! " he 
added brightly, " who knows but what the notion 
struck him as he passed by Lady Archie's delightful 
place? " 

This talk about Fletcher reminded me that some 
time previously I had attended a rehearsal by some 
enthusiastic amateurs of " The Two Noble 
Kinsmen." I waited until the poet had come to 
a full stop before venturing to mention this 
circumstance. Here at all events I had struck a 
sympathetic chord. His face lighted up wonder- 
fully. He went over to the little mountain of 
books lying on the table. 

"Ah! " he exclaimed with childish delight, 
" I will read you something from 6 The Two 
Noble Kinsmen.' " 

But before the reading began a certain ritual 
had to be observed. The twilight was upon us. The 
poet lighted the three candles which always stood 
on his mantelpiece in three separate candlesticks. 
He hated gas as an illuminant though he was 
enthusiastic about the gas stove which was fixed 
in his bedroom fire-place a contrivance he never 
attempted to light himself. Walter and I had 



often discussed the idea of installing electric light 
fittings to resemble candles. Perhaps he might 
have " taken to " the innovation. Perhaps not. 
In any case the idea was never carried out, and 
to the end of his days, when daylight began to 
fade, Swinburne read or wrote by the light of his 
three candles. His method of lighting was a fear- 
some process. On the landing outside his sitting- 
room door was an open gas-jet. He took one 
candlestick and lighted the candle at it, the grease 
dropping from it the while in unrestrained abandon. 
He returned to his room, the weapon in his hand 
still spluttering fat, and having placed the candle 
on the table, he lighted the other two from it. 
Then, with ceremonial precision, he arranged the 
three candles quite close together, almost touching 
each other. This light he kept behind him as 
he read. He seemed to know to a nicety the exact 
spot from which the light would be most effectively 
diffused, for the little circle of burning wicks 
afforded the sole illumination in his rather big 
study. While the soft rays from behind him were 
sufficient to make clear to him the printed page, 
they cast eerie shadows on the ceiling and threw 
wonderful high lights on the pictures and mirrors. 
It struck me that many men, even poets, would 
have had either two or four candles in compliment 



to an unpleasant superstition by which three 
candles (possibly because there were three crosses 
at Calvary) are an omen of ill-luck. Whether or 
not Swinburne had ever thought of this super- 
stition, the use of three candles was quite 
in keeping with his beliefs or misbeliefs. 

But all my speculation about the superstition 
ceased when in mingled twilight and candlelight 
the poet began to read the passages in " The Two 
Noble Kinsmen " leading up to the fight between 
Palamon and Arcite. 

There was a weird and subtle charm about 
Swinburne's delivery of the poetry that he loved. 
He had none of the arts or affectations of the 
elocutionist. There were indeed qualities in his 
method which the elocutionist would decry as 
unsound and eccentric. The fact, however, 
remains that his delivery captured the imagination 
of the hearer, where the art of the elocutionist 
left him cold. His methods may have been 
" unsound " ; they were certainly effective. 
When I took leave of him after that memorable 
recital, it was with the sensation of one who had 
been hypnotised. 

What, I wondered, made the Swinburne reading 
of an old dramatist so oddly arresting whereas 
his readings about Mrs. Gamp and others in the 



Dickens gallery was so marred by peculiarities 
of voice and manner as to be almost unpleasant? 
With the qualities of the Dickens recitals I shall 
deal in a future chapter. The explanation is prob- 
ably something like this : in Dickens he was most 
of all concerned with impersonation. He acted 
or thought that he acted the parts of the various 
characters. Nature had not endowed him with the 
equipment for accomplishing this ; so the perform- 
ance left much to be desired. But when it came 
to giving voice to the words of an old dramatist 
he was no longer concerned with conveying the 
meaning to his audience. He surrendered himself 
completely to the rhythmic laws of verse. He 
rendered the music, not the meaning of the 
dramatist, and so it happened that while his 
rendering of Charles Dickens might be voted 
rather distressing, his reading of an act by John 
Fletcher arrested and fascinated the hearer. 




EVEN when I knew Swinburne only by fleeting 
glimpses, the personality of the poet had struck 
me as something quite out of the ordinary. 

To begin with, he looked what we call 
" a celebrity." Having once seen him, much less 
met him, no one could fail to understand he had 
come into contact with a very extraordinary being, 
for certain characteristics removed Swinburne 
definitely outside the pale of ordinary mortals. 
Had I met him for the first time in the street 
or in a room, and not knowing he was Swinburne, 
had been asked to guess what manner of man 
he was by profession, I should unhesitatingly 
at the first glance have said " Poet." A second 


guess might have been " Musician." This was 
not because he possessed the frenzied mane of hair 
which is such a valuable asset to a pianist, for 




when I first saw Swinburne his head was bald on 
top, his hair being a tawny-grey in colour. His 
face, however, reminded me of Paderewski. Both 
men possessed brilliant, expressive eyes, the same 
steady, intent gaze, and the same air of poetic 
mystery. Oddly enough, the hair on the temples 
and at the nape of the neck was rather thick, and 
was much ruddier than his other locks, indicating 
clearly that in his youth Swinburne had possessed 
red hair. His small beard and moustache, 
although streaked with grey, gave the same 
suggestion of warm colour. 

Often when he sat opposite me at meals I would 
mentally frame Swinburne's head in the pianist's 
wealth of copper-coloured hair and the resemblance 
between them would then become positively 
surprising. But his hair had never been copper- 
coloured. When his cousin first showed me a 
lock of Algernon's hair, I could hardly believe 
such a colour could have grown on a human head. 
It was not a bit like the hair so often described as 
" the sort Titian would have loved to paint " ; it 
was just a fiery red. 

His eyes were what specially attracted me. 
They were wonderful, and by far the best feature 
of his face. If the eye is the window of the soul, 
truly the eyes of Swinburne spoke for him. I 



would look at him long and searchingly across the 
table to try to ascertain what colour they really 
were. Sometimes they would look soft and tender 
enough to suggest pansies, at other moments they 
seemed to be greyish green ; and, again, I would 
think they must be blue. At last I came to the 
conclusion that they were hazel. The peculiar 
speckles in them made them marvellously 
expressive. I have seen them dance and catch fire, 
according to his various moods. When he read 
aloud any passage requiring dramatic emphasis, 
these speckles would grow more radiant and 
quiver with every cadence of his rather high- 
pitched voice. 

Taking it for granted that Swinburne possessed 
a superabundance of hair as a young man, 
and wore it in the manner of " Struwwelpeter," 
I cannot agree with those who think that he 
possessed a head too big for his body. I would 
have been the first to have noticed any abnormality 
of this sort, had it existed. In the days when his 
figure was slender and boyish, the top-heavy look 
with which he is credited was no doubt due to the 
thick hair standing out bush-like from both sides 
of his head. 

Had Nature given Swinburne a body worthy of 
his mental gifts, he would have been better looking 



than the Apollo Belvedere. But it was other- 
wise decreed. His facial features were remarkably 
good, but his figure was against him. He would 
have been handsome if he had been a few inches 
taller and his figure good. But he was short, and 
his shoulders were far too sloping. 

His physical imperfections had become less 
noticeable when I knew him, for he had " filled 
out ' since the days of " Dolores ' and 
" Chastelard," and his limbs, unusually muscular, 
for a man of his size, had taken on a more solid 

His hands were not beautiful or well-shaped, 
and they were not particularly small. I would 
often look at his rather podgy digits and prosaic 
finger nails, and compare them with Walter's 
long, tapering fingers and filbert-shaped nails. 
Walter's hand often served Rossetti for a model 
when the artist was painting one of his celebrated 
" half lengths," but one had to think of the work 
it did before one could be interested in Swinburne's 
hand. I feel called upon to make these obser- 
vations because a brilliant essayist wrote in a 
leading review of Swinburne's hands and feet as 
though they were almost fairy-like. 

A propos de bottes I had ample opportunity for 
knowing a good deal about the footwear of the 



Housemates. The same bootmaker made for both 
of them. There was but little difference in size, 
Swinburne's feet being a trifle larger than 
Walter's. The poet took what in the trade is 
called " an eight and a half," so that to write of his 
" tiny feet " is absurd. Swinburne had his boots 
made of calf leather while Walter preferred a soft 
kid. Often when I was out walking with Walter 
I would notice that he had on a pair of calf boots. 
I would say, " You've got Swinburne's boots on 
again. Oh dear! Why will you not look? ' 
Walter would laughingly reply, "And the joke of 
it is the poor boy can't get his feet into a pair of 

In the days of his young manhood, Swinburne 
may or may not have evinced a partiality for fine 
clothes, but I am sure his good sense never allowed 
him to adopt any sort of eccentricity of attire. 
The poet of tradition and the stage has always 
something of the guy about his clothing. Kj 
wears a pair of rusty black trousers, baggy at the 
knees, a nondescript waistcoat, and a shabby 
velveteen coat surmounted by a very low turned- 
down collar with a huge bow under it. His hair 
is long, and his hat is an umbrageous sombrero. 

Swinburne's attire, as I observed it, flatly 
contradicted this caricature. He took great pains 



to avoid advertising his metier. He did not wear 
his hair long ; it only reached the nape of his neck, 
and the little he possessed was often cut by the 

He was always very plainly dressed, and I never 
saw him wearing any other sort of tie than a plain 
black silk one. At home, and sitting r.estfully in 
his chair with a book, he offered no mark for the 
caricaturist. But outside, when he had donned his 
wideawake, he somehow looked eccentric. For 
one thing he braced his trousers too high ; in his 
absence of mind, he would pull them above the 
ankles, showing several inches of white sock. 
Furthermore, he had a curious prancing gait, and 
his deliberate way of flinging out his feet before 
him as he trod the ground reminded one of a 
dancing-master or a soldier doing tfie goose-step. 

With his head thrown stiffly back and his body 
almost rigid from the waist upwards, Swinburne 
out-of-doors seemed to me an individual distinct 
from the Swinburne at home. Owing perhaps 
to his deafness, he was averse from meeting even 
his friends out of doors. He hated to come across 
them suddenly, and even Walter or I, when we 
happened to meet him, refrained from taking the 
slightest notice of him as we passed. Often we 
would meet him face to face as he was coming 
B 65 


down or we were going up the Hill, or vice versa. 
But he would walk past us totally oblivious of our 
proximity. It certainly was not because he was 
short-sighted, for he had perfect sight, but that 
directly he had left the house his mind was ready 
to take flight, like a bird on the wing, to that 
sphere of inspiration, his beloved Common. 

He would compose his poetry in the open air 
as he walked along. On wending his way down 
the Hill on his return, his thoughts were generally 
far away in the world of music he had created, and 
when he re-entered The Pines he was still thrilled 
by the song he had been singing during his walk. 



I HAVE never understood, and never expect 
to understand, the motive actuating those persons 
,who, after the deaths of Swinburne and Watts- 
Dunton, began to belittle the famous friends. 
To me their intimacy is simple and beautiful. 
The eyes of those who behold in it a 
subject for ridicule or detraction must be the eyes 
of the depraved. There is no chapter in literary 
history dealing with men's friendship more lovely ; 
and yet envy and spite have tried to disfigure the 
public aspect of this sweet and sacred thing. 

I do not propose to relate in extenso the story 
of how my husband and Swinburne came to live 
together. That has been done accurately in 
" The Life and Letters of Theodore Watts- 
Dunton." The authors of that book had their 
evidence at first hand. They heard the narrative 



over and over again from Walter's own lips, just 
as I have heard it. They heard it from Mrs. 
Mason (Walter's sister), who received the poet at 
her own house when he first came to Putney with 
my husband. I have frequently heard the story 
from the same source. Mrs. Mason's narrative 
never differed on repetition, and that of Walter 
never differed circumstantially from that of his 
sister. I really cannot conceive of evidence more 
complete and convincing. Moreover, it is first- 
hand evidence given by those who had personal 
knowledge of the facts stated. Nevertheless, 
certain publicists found scope for misrepre- 
sentation, and the authentic story was met by 
printed expressions of doubt and denial. 

The extraordinary thing is that Watts-Dunton's 
detractors deny statements made on first-hand 
testimony by quoting those made on third-hand 
evidence or no evidence at all. Perhaps I am 
only tempting these unscrupulous writers to fresh 
manifestations of spite by saying anything more 
about Swinburne's move to Putney, but I will 
take the risk. There is one pathetic passage in 
connection with the poet's first visit to Putney 
which was told me by Walter. It has not been 
published before. When Walter visited the sick 
poet, he was met by the landlady who, in answer 



to my husband's enquiry about the health of her 
lodger, said with an accent of deep concern: 
" Well, sir, he haven't eat anything for days. A 
nice beefsteak 'ud do him a power o' good"; 
and when Walter went into his friend's bedroom, 
he felt that the first part of the lady's information 
must be true, whatever might be said for her 
dietetic suggestion in the second part of it. He 
looked terribly ill. When at length a visit 
to Putney as Walter's guest in his sister's house 
was proposed, Swinburne gazed at his visitor with 
anxious eyes, and in a weak and broken voice asked 
eagerly, " Can't I go now"? " It would have been 
quite impossible to have taken him then and there. 
But the hope of going, coupled with proper 
nourishment, worked a gradual change. When 
at last the patient was pronounced fit for the 
journey my husband appeared with the vehicle in 
which they were to travel. Swinburne was 
pitifully weak, and was obliged to have the 
assistance of Walter's arm in descending the stairs. 
He looked up at him with a flush on his pale cheeks 
and a wan smile on his lips. " Oh, I'm so glad 
I'm going to Putney with you," he said, in the 
manner of a boy who was going on a pleasure 
jaunt with a friend. 

At Hyde Park Corner there was a congestion of 


traffic. The carriage was held up in the block, 
and Lord Ronald Gower, who happened to be 
crossing the road at the time, saw who were the 
passengers in Walter's " growler." He went 
up to it and cried out, " Hullo, Watts, you've got 
Swinburne there. Where are you taking him 
to ? ' At that time Lord Ronald Gower did not 
know Swinburne, though naturally his appearance 
was well-known to one who moved, as Lord' 
Ronald did, in literary and artistic circles. 

Walter's reply to the enquiry was, "I'm taking 
him with me to Putney." Then the pedestrian 
proceeded to open the carriage-door exclaiming, 
"I'm coming, too." " Oh, no, you're not ; we'll 
send you a card later on to say when you can 
come," was the prompt reply. As at that 
moment the tide of traffic began to flow again, the 


door of the " growler " was closed, and he went 
on his way rejoicing which was also his way. 
Without any notion of doing an ill-natured thing 
(Lord Ronald was quite incapable of that) but from 
a pure love of fun, he started the rumour that 
Swinburne had been abducted by Theodore Watts, 
who had sternly refused him admittance to the 
conveyance in which he was carrying off his prey. 
I suppose the story never reached the ears of the 
housemates, as they became when they agreed to 



share the tenancy of The Pines. Lord Ronald 
duly received his invitation, and he and the poet 
immediately struck up a friendship which 
developed into a life-long intimacy. No visitor to 
The Pines was more welcome. Swinburne and this 
friend had much in common, and each delighted 
in the tastes and idiosyncrasies of the Other. 

Lord Ronald Gower was skilled in more arts 
than one. He was a sculptor, and he presented 
to Swinburne a bronze statuette of Victor Hugo, 
a really fine work which the poet valued, not only 
because it was a likeness of his Idol, but because 
it was the work of a friend. The statuette is in 
my possession, and a photographic reproduction 
of it appears in this book. 

It was not, of course, until I became Walter's 
wife that I fully appreciated the exquisite 
nature of the relations existing between the two 
men. On Walter's side, the love for his friend 
seemed to be largely composed of what, for 
want of a better word, I must call the mothering 
instinct. He seemed to anticipate every wish and 
want of his companion. His anxiety for his 
physical welfare, his great interest in his mental 
output, his concern for his domestic comfort and 
for his amusement were beautiful to witness. 

Swinburne's satisfaction in his domiciliary 



arrangement L with my husband can easily be under- 
stood. From his earliest correspondence it is 
obvious that he could rely but little on himself in 
the prosy affairs of the world. In his days of 
"roses and raptures" he found men who professed 
themselves willing to relieve him from tire- 
some responsibilities. But they turned out to 
be broken reeds mere boon companions, or that 
less amiable class of individual with " axes to 
grind." In Walter he felt he had found the ideal 
friend upon whom he could rely, and his sentiment 
of gratitude and admiration soon developed into an 
indestructible brotherly affection. The infamous 
fiction, that my husband placed Swinburne under 
some kind of disciplinary restraint, would have 
been fiercely resented by Swinburne himself. 
Walter ruled him by love, guided him by advice, 
and influenced him by suggestion. With infinite 
patience and tact, he got him to change his habits, 
and it was not long before he discovered that he 
had by no means embarked on a hopeless task in 
trying to persuade his friend to lead the healthy, 
orderly life of which he was so much in need. It 
says much for Walter's magnetism that he was 
able to accomplish in a few months what the poet's 
medical man, his family, and other friends had 
given up as impossible. 



The author of "Atalanta " was just a human 
being who wanted to be loved and taken care of, 
and directly he came to Mrs. Mason's house, under 
Walter's guidance, his cure began. 

Those who have read Mr. Coulson Kernahan's 
clever narrative of the way in which Walter lured 
Swinburne from brandy to beer will remember the 
ingenuity displayed by my husband in bringing 
about the desired result. 

I have often heard Walter tell the story, and 
veritably Swinburne's cure was effected by the 
art that conceals art. The Bard never detected 
that from first to last it was a ruse, for on the 
occasion of each change to a drink less potent 
than its predecessor, some literary reason was 
assigned which Walter guessed would awaken 
desire to emulate some real or fictitious hero 
beloved by Swinburne. As far as Algernon was 
concerned, he simply gave up brandy because 
Tennyson drank port, and changed from port to 
burgundy because that was the tipple of Dumas' 
immortal Musketeers. Then for an equally good 
reason he proceeded to claret, and, finally, as it 
was Shakespeare's drink, to beer. 

Unfortunately, one day some time after my 
marriage Walter got it into his head that a very 
light beer, then extensively advertised and known 



as " Pilsener," would be quite the thing for 
Algernon and asked rue to order some. Had he 
taken the precaution of informing Swinburne 
beforehand that this beer, he had reason to believe, 
was the established drink of, say, William 
Morris or Colonel Newcome, the Bard would 
have adopted it gleefully. But the bottle was 
placed before him one day at luncheon without 
any preliminary explanation. He poured it out 
quite unsuspectingly, and under the impression 
that it was his accustomed " Ind Coope." Having 
tasted it, however, he flatly refused to drink the 
" stuff," and with an angry glint in his eyes he 
peremptorily ordered the maid to bring his usual 
drink to him. 

Nothing shows more effectively the success of 
Walter's influence over Swinburne's early failing 
than the fact that when he took his daily walks 
across the Common to Wimbledon, he was 
perfectly free to indulge in whatever beverage he 
chose, but was never known to exceed his one 
bottle of beer at his favourite inn. 

I think I shall best indicate the attitude of the 
housemates each to the other by quoting what on 
two different occasions was said to me. Swinburne 
told me one day, with an expression of infinite 
tenderness in his eyes : " There is no one in the 




world like Walter ! ' By the way, he never called 
him Theodore as he is made to do by one writer of 

My husband said to me long before that tribute 
was paid him by Swinburne, " It is because of his 
helplessness that I love him so much." No 
words of mine can more adequately than these 
depict the sweet relationship existing between the 
men, its quality and its cause, the unceasing and 
ungrudging tenderness of the protector, the 
unfailing and unfaltering gratitude of his friend 
and housemate. 

But prejudice and malice can make critics view 
life through a distorting glass. Only this can 
account for the fact that when Swinburne was 
rescued from pitiable surroundings and mis- 
chievous companionship, and placed in comfortable 
quarters, the cry went round that the physical 
improvement of the poet synchronised with his 
mental decay. So highly placed was the originator 
of the legend, and so impartial and judicial 
appeared to be his tone, that it was repeated by 
the smaller fry of critics, and accepted by the 
denser sort of readers. 

The opponents of the change wrought by my 
husband in Swinburne's manner of living are fond 
of asserting that his verse deteriorated in quality 



after he left Great James Street. Apparently 
they deplore the cessation of the moods to which 
we owe " Faustine," " Dolores," or " Herma- 
phroditus." They fail to appreciate the fact 
or, appreciating it, they disingenuously refrain 
from stating it that a continuous supply of 
bitterly erotic verse from the same source would 
eventually have palled upon the public. We are 
invited to suppose, however, that there are critics 
who would never sicken of repetitions of the first 
series of " Poems and Ballads," and when the 
poet leaves his grandes amour euses and lepers, then 
oh, most amusing paradox ! they dub him 

I turn for relief from the raucous chorus of 
detractors to the verdict of Mrs. Disney Leith, 
whose capacity for judging was not diminished 
by her cousinship with the poet. She has written 
of his career with discernment and corn- 
prehension : " The time of his vivid and fiery 
youth was not that of his best production. It 
was in the little home at Putney, with its quiet 
household routine . . . that the great 
imperishable works of his life were brought forth." 
In support of this statement, I surrender to the 
temptation of quoting what from a technical 
standpoint is one of the best sonnets ever written, 



that which Swinburne addressed to Walter after 
they had spent two years together at The Pines : 

Spring speaks again, and all our woods are stirred 
And all our wide glad wastes aflower around, 
That twice have heard keen April's clarion sound 

Since here we first together saw and heard 

Spring's light reverberate and reiterate word 

Shine forth and speak in season. Life stands crowned 
Here with the best one thing it ever found, 

As of my soul's best birthdays dawns a third. 

There is a friend that as the wise man saith 
Cleaves closer than a brother : nor to me 
Hath time not shown, through days like waves at strife, 

This truth more sure than all things else but death, 
This pearl most perfect found in all the sea 
That washes toward your feet these waifs of life. 

I dismiss an unpleasant subject by saying 
that the argument against those who belittle 
Swinburne's later work needs no exponent except 
the " waifs of life " to be found in " Studies in 
Song," " Tristram of Lyonesse," and the volumes 
which followed them. 



IN his wanderings over Wimbledon Common and 
Putney Heath, Swinburne cultivated the acquaint- 
ance of trees as other men cultivate the 
acquaintance of their fellow-creatures. His prime 
favourites were the Hawthorns. When the May 
was in full blossom the poet's enthusiasm was 
wonderful to witness. He never tired of talking 
about the beauty of these sweet-smelling bushes. 
His endeavour after one of his rambles seemed to 
be to inspire us with an enthusiasm equal to his 

Swinburne's interest in trees dated from his 
early experiences of Northumberland. He often 
declared that the scenery of his beloved County 
was wilder and more magnificent than any other 
in England. He knew the name of a tree the 
moment he saw it. No chance of the Bard 



mistaking an elm for an oak, or a beech for a birch. 
And the difference between particular members 
of the same sylvan species was to him as distinct 
as the difference between one man and another. 
Many of the trees he knew by the familiar names 
bestowed upon them by the rustics of Northumber- 
land. His lore concerning trysting oaks and white 
poplars, about an old ash or a silver fir, was quite 
interesting, and apparently inexhaustible. I was 
always prepared to listen sympathetically to his 
eloquent tributes to his sylvan favourites, but I 
confess I was not prepared for the proposition he 
made to me one day on this subject. 

" When," he asked, without any prefatory 
leading up to the topic " When are you coming 
with me to see the hawthorns? >! 

I was thinking of something quite different at 
the time, and for just a moment his question 
sounded as if he indicated an afternoon call on a 
family of that name. A recollection, however, 
of certain of his rhapsodies over the luncheon-table 
made the illusion a momentary one. The 
Hawthorns to whom he was anxious to introduce 
me were arboreal friends of his, and not mere 
creatures of flesh and blood. Nothing definite 
was settled at the time of this first invitation. 
Swinburne reverted to it almost daily. 



On one occasion his tone had a pathetic and 
pleading note in it. " Don't let us wait until the 
blossoms are falling," he urged. " When are we 
going to see the May ? ' Both Walter and I felt 
that the expedition could no longer be put off. A 
day and hour were settled. We arranged to meet 
the poet on Putney Heath close to the house of 
the late Sir George Newnes. It turned out to be 
an ideal day when my husband and I started off 
to keep our appointment, which to me seemed 
a great adventure, for I had been but six months 
married, and still felt romantically the novelty 
of my position. 

When we arrived at the trysting-place, we found 
Swinburne already there pacing up and down, 
watch in hand, in a state of great impatience. We 
were, as our American friends put it, " on time," 
if, indeed, we were not more than punctual. But 
the poet had evidently been experiencing con- 
siderable nervousness and anxiety. He would 
not imagine us forgetful, but he had conjured up 
some unforeseen and unfortunate circumstance 
preventing us from keeping our appointment. 
His relief at our arrival was great, and he was for 
darting off on the instant to introduce us to the 
' hives of the honey of heaven " which at this 
spot were particularly luxuriant. Walter, however, 


had a business appointment at home and he 
left us together. I strolled off ,with Swin- 
burne. I found that he knew each one separately 
and individually, as one knows old friends. 
He ran from one to another, jumping Over 
the numerous intersecting dykes and ditches and 
giving me his hand to help me to leap over 
to his side. When he got to one large hawthorn 
of divine loveliness he paused for a long time in 
front of it and drew in long deep breaths, as though 
he were inhaling the subtle emanation of the 
blossoms he so rapturously adored, and softly 
and repeatedly ejaculated, "Ah-h-h ! ' In front 
of another hawthorn, exceptionally tall and 
weighed down with " the marvel of May time," 
he said, " This is one I especially want you to see. 
Of course it is rather too big for a hawthorn." 
With this expression of opinion I thought he 
dismissed the tree, but his respect for it was greater 
than his disapproval of its dimensions would have 
led me to expect. Before he turned to laave, 
he took off his hat, and gravely saluted the big 
beauty of the hawthorn tribe. 

A little further on he said to me, " Now I will 
show you one quite different much smaller." 
After some quick walking and occasional jumping 
of ditches, he halted me in front of a short, stumpy 

F 81 


and very bushy tree perfectly t white in its mantle 
of blossom. He gazed at it with the idolatrous 
affection of a lover. Then he turned to me, and 
asked with a sort of chastened enthusiasm, " Now, 
is not that a little duck? " " Duck," I may add, 
was a favourite word of the Bard's when alluding 
to little things that he loved. I thought it strange 
at the time that he did not appear to take any 
great interest in the other glories of the heath 
the yellowing gorse, the ferns just showing their 
fronds, the heather with its fascinating odour. He 
was subconsciously aware of them, of course, but 
his visit and mine was to the Hawthorns, and 
for the time being, the other beauties of the heath 
did not count. 

Looking back on it now, I don't know which 
of us enjoyed that " hawthorn time " the more, 
or which of us was the younger of the two. I 
think it must have been Swinburne. He was 
absolutely indefatigable. All this jumping about 
in the broiling sun in the hottest part of the day did 
not affect him in the least, whereas it left me 
decidedly limp. I was struck with his agility, 
it resembled that of some free animal of the wood- 
lands. He repeated as we moved on, and 
apparently to himself, without any thought 
of having a hearer, the lines : 


In hawthorn time the heart grows light, 
The world is sweet in sound and sight. 

But the hearer on this occasion recognised the 
quotation. " Why," I said to him, " those are 
the opening lines of ' The Tale of Balen ' !" He 
stopped short in his stride, his expression one of 
combined surprise and pleasure. " Have you read 
' The Tale of Balen '?" he asked. I told him 
for the second time for he had completely 
forgotten about the talk at our first meeting that 
not only had I read " Balen," but that Walter 
had asked me to transcribe it, and that I knew 
every word of it. He seemed greatly interested 
in my statement and gave me a look like an 
unspoken benediction. 

Swinburne abominated typewriting, and latterly 
all his poetry was copied by hand before it went 
to the printers who set up from copy while the 
original remained in the poet's possession. I 
remember how the Bard would snatch up his proofs 
as soon as they arrived " to see what the devils 
were up to " meaning the compositors. Here 
I may say that Swinburne's usual practice was to 
publish everything he wrote directly he was \ i 
satisfied with it. Walter said to me, "Algernon 
is the exact opposite to me. I am loth to publish 



anything. Swinburne burns to see his work in 

But to return to our walk. Swinburne's talk as 
we gained the road was mainly about the gorgeous 
sights and delicious odours from which jve had 
just emerged. But these did not provide the 
whole of his subject matter. I happened to 
mention the name of a man of whom from the 
expression that his countenance suddenly assumed 
he evidently did not approve. The poet stopped 
and growled out a word which I could not catch. 
It sounded like " Polly ' something, and I 
supposed my friend wished to convey the idea of 
effeminacy in the gentleman whose name I had 
mentioned. Some time after I asked him to tell 
me what word he had used. He was in one of his 
most amiable moo'ds, and he not only repeated 
the word but he wrote it down for me in very 
large and distinct letters. I have still preserved 
it as a memento. Here it is : 

' ' polypseudonymuncle . ' ' 

Asked about its precise meaning, he readily 
answered that it meant " a horrible little sewer- 
rat who had been convicted under a hundred 
aliases." I expressed my surprise that one word 



could convey so many. He declared that he quite 
shared my feeling. As we were nearly home, 
and about to cross the road, a pony-cart passed up 
the hill. The cargo of the driver consisted of caged 
birds. It was a miscellaneous lot. It appeared 
to comprise all sorts and conditions of bird from 
the canary to the cockatoo. Prominent among 
the captives were some parrots, and I drew the 
poet's attention to a depressed specimen crouching 
at the end of his perch in a cage far too small for 
him. Some association of ideas set the poet off 
on a fresh conversational track. He asked me if I 
had ever heard of a wonderful parrot at one time 
in the possession of his sister. I shook my head. 
He proceeded to expatiate on the recorded 
exploits of the gaudy and gifted creature. His 
sister's parrot so he said he had been assured 
both sang and recited " Malbrouck s'en vat-t'en 
guerre *' with the utmost fluency. " Did he 
swear?" I enquired. "Alas! No," said Swin- 
burne. " Although he had been adopted by a 
naval family, the creature was innately genteel and 

After a silence he resumed his reminiscences. 
He told me that one day Walter and he had gone 
to lunch with his sister Alice. With a mock 
tragic air he explained that it was a sad occasion. 



The feathered pet had, in a tolerably green old 
age, paid the debt of nature. His sister was 
naturally much distressed at the loss of her bird. 
And Alice being the Bard's favourite sister, he 
was naturally affected by the depression of his 
hostess. The meal was a dull affair, and on leaving 
the house Swinburne again and again expressed 
his regret that anything should have happened 
to have upset her so gravely. " But," said 
Swinburne, " my one regret was that my deafness 
never allowed me to hear the talented creature 
sing his famous little French song. How I should 
have enjoyed that! " 

I would dearly have liked to continue our walk, 
for Swinburne's ebullient spirits were contagious 
and he was in a particularly lively mood. But the 
luncheon-hour was approaching, and we were 
obliged to turn our backs to the country and make 
tracks for home. He appeared charmed when I 
told him how much I had enjoyed seeing the 
Hawthorns, and of my wish to pay them another 
visit. He beamed with pleasure at the idea of 
being again my " cicerone," as he called it, and 
immediately suggested that his sister Isabel should 
join our next expedition. "I'll write to her 
this afternoon," he said, " and urge her to come." 
I used to love the days when Isabel came to 



The Pines. To see the brother and sister greet 
each other was a positive delight, such simple and 
devoted affection did the one entertain for 
the other. 

On reaching home, Swinburne followed me into 
the room where Walter sat waiting for us. Full 
of animation, the poet said, " Clara and I have 
seen my beautiful Hawthorns ; and it was 
like being with a hamadryad absolutely a 

The letter to Isabel was duly despatched and 
both Swinburne and I looked forward to showing 
her " the little duck " and all the other wonders of 
the heath. Alas ! on the day she elected to come it 
poured with rain, and the visit had to be put off 
until a more propitious occasion. Swinburne was 
as disappointed as a child, 



Now that Damon and Pythias have passed 
" beyond the veil," I think of the gentle, 
affectionate and always courteous attitude of 
Swinburne towards myself. I was admitted as 
a privileged member of the inner circle. On my 
part I did all in my power to make myself 
acquainted with the literary topics they discussed, 
and trained myself to take an intelligent interest 
in their conversation, which often, I quite freely 
admit, was miles above my head. Swinburne, 
when first informed that Walter and I were to 
be married, expressed himself very characteristic- 
ally. " You know," he said to Walter, " I think 
all this is very jolly." He took unusual pains in 
the selection of a wedding-present for us, which 
on this occasion did not take the shape of books. 
Something different had to be thought of, and 



he had set his mind on " something beautiful in 
silver." He applied to his sister Isabel to aid 
him in his quest. He eventually selected an 
exquisite dish in dull beaten silver, the signs of 
the Zodiac in coloured enamels embellishing its 
artistic column and base. I recall too that when 
our marriage was announced he and Walter went 
off at once to Onslow Square to convey what the 
poet described as " the wonderful news " to his 
sister. Then he became impatient in his desire 
to make me acquainted with her. Miss Isabel 
Swinburne was the last surviving member of the 
poet's family and the youngest of his four sisters, 
none of whom married, his younger brother 
Edward being the only one of Admiral and Lady 
Jane Swinburne's children to quit the single state. 
When I saw Isabel for trie first time she was about 
fifty-four years of age. She was still very good- 
looking, and as a girl must have been extremely 
pretty. She was of medium height, inclined 
perhaps to be a trifle stout, her complexion 
was creamy in its smooth excellence, her eyes 
angelically blue. Her movements had the agility 
of youth. Elegance and refinement united in her 
with esprit and subtle charm. Some might have 
called her gushing, but in her case an effusion of 
pleasant words implied to me sympathy and 



tenderness. Moreover, she easily saw the funny 
side of things. Swinburne invariably addressed 
her as "Abbas," a nursery name. To her and 
a few close friends he was " Hadji." 

Walter accompanied me on my first visit to 
Isabel Swinburne. The reception she gave me 
was delightfully cordial and obviously sincere, and 
we soon became great friends. She at once 
insisted on my calling her " Isabel," and when 
I forgot this friendly injunction, she reminded me 
of it by saying, in her inimitably pretty way, that 
she did not know who " Miss Swinburne " was. 
As to Swinburne's attitude of brotherly affection 
to myself, he took an early opportunity of assuring 
me that he looked upon me as " something near." 
In proof of this declaration he presented me with 
a beautiful edition of " Lorna Doone v bound 
in white vellum, with this inscription : 

To Clara Watts-Dunton, 

From her affectionate brother-in-law 
Algernon Charles Swinburne. 

The gift afforded me unbounded pleasure, and 
the inscription seemed to assure me that the 
fraternal bond that held the two housemates was 
undisturbed by my coming. The sumptuous 
volume was illustrated with thirty-seven landscape 



views of the scenery round and about the Doone 
Valley. I well remember how, on the day he gave 
it to me, he enthusiastically cut open the pages 
facing the illustrations and drew my attention to 
a particularly lovely one depicting Porlock Bay. 
He gazed otFiirfor a long time, declaring it to b<! 
worthy otf Turner, whjkn he considered the greatest 
landscape ^painter^m the world.* But when we 
came across a full-page illustration of three human 
figures he hurried past it with an unmistakable 
sign of annoyance, and confided to me that he 
hated (Swinburne never disliked anything 
he always hated or loathed it) illustrated books 
where human beings were portrayed. He told 
me that one of his reasons for choosing that 
particular edition was because he imagined it to 
be free from such pictorial eyesores. Nothing in 
a small way vexed him more than to find, even 
in a magazine, an illustration to a story with a 
footline of this sort : " Suddenly, she looked him 

* Turner gave Swinburne's mother, Lady Jane Swinburne, 
six original water-colour drawings. She treasured them so 
much that she would never go anywhere without them. When- 
ever the family travelled abroad, a portfolio containing the 
precious drawings always accompanied them. I was privileged 
to see them on more than one occasion. They were unframed, 
and kept in the portfolio always, and never allowed to be 
exposed, in case the light should fade their wonderful colour. 



straight in the face." My imagination refuses to 
conjure up what he would have said if he had seen 
the portrait of himself as a hairy Satyr delighting 
an audience of naked babes, which adorns the 
posthumous collection of his child-poetry entitled 
" The Spring-tide of Life." 




SWINBURNE'S daily walk across the Common to 
Wimbledon and back has been done to death. 
Every yard of the way has been described ; 
and, indeed, stretches of the heath which were 
not included in his itinerary have been " written 
up ' and photographed. Imaginative writers 
have boldly identified his favourite spots. But 
these enthusiasts have, as a rule, ended their 
narratives at the very point where cynics might 
suppose the human interest of the story to begin, 
namely, the village of Wimbledon itself. For the 
limit of Swinburne's walk was the old-fashioned 
inn known as " The Rose and Crown." Else- 
where I have described one of my walks with the 
poet over his beloved common, with the remarks 
he made to me on his favourite trees. Here I 
follow him to his favourite inn, and to the shop 



at which he bought a daily paper and sometimes 
ordered, from a catalogue, some rare old book 
which the owner of the shop would procure for him. 
At both the inn and the shop Swinburne's memory 
is still cherished with affectionate reverence. 

Visitors will find the exterior of " The Rose 
and Crown " exactly as it was in the poet's day. 
The interior has, alas ! been altered out of 
recognition. I shudder to think what the effect 
on Swinburne would have been had the architec- 
tural transformation been effected in his time. 
The cosy little " coffee room " which he entered 
from the street has disappeared, and with it has 
disappeared the chair in which he always sat. But 
it is in safe keeping ; and I just loved the widow 
of the late landlord when she told me that she 
would not part with it for any sum that might be 

When once Swinburne had established himself 
as a daily customer at " The Rose and Crown " 
he was spared the usual formality of ordering. 
From the bar his entry was noted. They had 
been keeping a look-out for him, and a waiter 
' entered from without " bearing a bottle of Bass 
with a replica of the peculiarly thick tumbler which 
the Bard used at home. It is related, with a note 
of tragedy in the recital, how this sacred beaker, 



which was kept for his use, was smashed by a care- 
less barmaid. Unfortunately there was not 
another such glass in the house. Swinburne was 
greatly " put out " by the accident. He did not 
relish his Bass from any other vessel ; was moody 
and silent during his stay, leaving the place 
abruptly after but a very short rest. Happily, on 
the same afternoon a stock of tumblers like that 
which had been broken was procured, and from 
the morrow until the end the poet was provided 
with the vessel that he preferred. 

The cosy little apartment which he used was 
not much frequented during the time of his visit ; 
but it was not, of course, a private room, and a 
stray visitor would sometimes enter it while the 
poet was in possession. Then one of two things 
happened. If Swinburne had nearly finished his 
bottle, he would get up and disappear into 
the village High Street. If, on the other hand, 
he had only just begun to refresh himself, he would 
seek sanctuary in the landlord's private room. As 
all his movements were watched by the host or 
his assistants with a really pious solicitude, he 
would immediately be followed to his retreat by 
a servant bringing with him the bottle and the 
glass which the poet had abandoned in the 
" Coffee Room." It is as well to say here that 


Swinburne's intense love of privacy has given 
rise to a vast amount of foolish and sometimes 
spiteful talk about his inaccessibility at The Pines. 
He was not inaccessible to those he desired to 

I have often thought when viewing Swinburne's 
life at The Pines both before and after my 
marriage, that Sydney Smith may have been quite 
wrong in ridiculing the idea of a " Special 
Providence." For surely some unseen power must 
have arranged matters for the convenience of the 
Bard. When he made his first excursions to 
Wimbledon he at once discovered the very people 
who seemed intuitively to understand how he 
wished to be served. These admirable persons 
may have been entertaining an angel. But they 
were not entertaining the angel " unawares." 
As we have seen, he daily found at an Inn (the 
first and only one he went to at Wimbledon) a 
host and hostess who might have been appointed 
by the Almighty to minister to his needs after the 
very fashion he desired. 

A little higher up the village High Street 
he came, during his first exploratory ramble, on 
the shop of a bookseller and stationer. Here he 



established himself on an excellent footing with 
the proprietress, and here, for thirty years, he 
repaired every week day of his life while he was 
living at Putney to buy newspapers. Books he 
also bought here, and, in December, Christmas 
cards. Of his Christmas cards I shall have some- 
thing to say elsewhere. 

When the poet returned from his daily walk, 
buoyant, excited and invigorated by the exercise, 
the conversation at lunch often turned on the 
Wimbledon book-shop and its amiable owner, Miss 
Frost. Swinburne imagined that he had 
discovered in her a survival of the gentle, placid, 
efficient Englishwoman limned in the pages of 
Jane Austin. Miss Frost knew the identity of her 
illustrious customer, and was especially anxious to 
make things pleasant for him. She succeeded 
marvellously, and Swinburne was quite at ease in 
her establishment. 

There is a class of hero-worshippers who would 

intrude on the privacy of an eremite for the sake 

of telling their friends that they had interviewed 

' a celebrity." Wimbledon had its proportion 

of this unpleasant and persistent tribe ; and 

it would happen sometimes that Swinburne was 

tracked down by one of these persons. The 

hunter was usually, I am sorry to say, a woman, 

Q 97 


She would come in, and under the pretence of 
purchasing a " H.B." pencil or a pennyworth 
Of blotting-paper, endeavour to force herself upon 
the notice of the poet. Miss Frost was prepared 
for such emergencies, and if the obtrusive " Mrs. 
Leo Hunter " were not forced to a retreat by the 
great man's freezing glance, he would escape 
molestation by withdrawing to the private room 
of the sympathetic bookseller. It must be ad- 
mitted that A. C. S was in the habit of accepting 
considerate attention of this kind too much as a 
matter of course. But that he was au fond grateful 
and appreciative I have the very best authority for 

On one Occasion an aggressive lady, blessed with 
one of those voices that are said to " carry," 
actually went up to the poet and expressed a desire 
to shake hands with him. He glared, irresponsive. 
She repeated the request, raising her voice to the 
whole extent of its carrying power. He made 
a characteristic movement of the shoulders 
indicative of deafness and despair, and rushed 
out of the shop. On the following day when he 
paid his visit to his bookseller, he exclaimed 
abruptly to Miss Frost : " What a terrible woman 
that was yesterday ! And oh, what an awful 
voice ! ' He had evidently heard the request 


of the huntress. The voice had " carried " all 

Very curious I thought this desire on the part of 
people who did not know Swinburne and of some 
who did not even know his works to shake hands 
with him. When I went into society, enthusiastic 
persons with whom my acquaintance was of the 
thinnest possible kind would come up and say : 
" Oh, Mrs. W r atts-Dunton, could you arrange for 
my son (or nephew or daughter as the case might 
be) to call at The Pines just to shake Mr. 
Swinburne by the hand." To these I would say : 
" I will ask Mr. Swinburne and let you know." 
Of course I never spoke to the poet of these hand- 
shaking sentimentalists, for he simply loathed their 
sort of homage and was extremely sensitive on the 

Swinburne had a horror of drawing small 
cheques. Only with difficulty could he be 
persuaded to draw one for five pounds ; below that 
he absolutely refused to go. Periodically he 
got the bookseller at Wimbledon to change 
him a cheque for twenty pounds. The money was 
obtained in gold from the bank at the other side 
of the street. He took it away in the little canvas 
bag used by bankers, and this bag, when he 
returned to The Pines was placed on a shelf 



in the corner cupboard where he kept his 
manuscripts. The bag was always open, and so 
was the cupboard. From this store of gold he 
drew for his daily requirements until the little bag 
was empty. Then he would draw another cheque 
for twenty and get Miss Frost to cash it. For 
a long series of years, indeed, this lady played the 
part of a fairy godmother to him. And it is not 
everybody, I can assure the reader, who is qualified 
to play fairy godmother to a genius. 

Sometimes the Wimbledon purchases grew 
to a considerable bulk. Swinburne in a book- 
seller's was something like a schoolboy in a 
tuck-shop. Temptation was on all sides of him, 
and he found it irresistible. For the carriage of 
his treasures he had two very large pockets in his 
coat. We called them his "poacher-pockets." 
One of the self-imposed duties of the kindly 
bookseller at Wimbledon was to see that these 
poacher-pockets balanced nicely. The poet 
himself was not deft in stowing away his 
purchases ; and with one heavy pocket weighing 
down on one side and a light one on the other, 
the walk home across the Common would have 
been fatiguing even to such an excellent 

I can fancy him now, impatient but tractable, as 



he stands while the adjustment of the parcels is 
proceeded with, his relief when the balance 
is decided to be s< just so," his courtly bow 
on departure and his quick, springy walk home 
across the Common. 'And I can see him now as, 
on his return, he comes into the dining-room, gay 
and beaming and, to my thinking, beautiful. His 
eyes would sparkle with sheer delight as he pro- 
duced some of the morning's " finds." Perhaps it 
was a rare old volume ordered long since from a 
catalogue. Perhaps some freakishly small edition 
of a classic. Dwarf reproductions afforded him 
infinite pleasure. Perhaps it was a newspaper 
containing a complimentary notice of some work 
by a friend, or a notice, equally laudatory, of a 
writer whose output he despised. The latter he 
would read in impressive tones, exclaiming at the 
finish, with a roguish twinkle in his eyes, " I should 
much like to feel that person's ' bumps.' This 
phrenological phrase was often used by him when 
referring to somebody who, in the direction of 
bad art, might be regarded as capable de tout. 

During luncheon he would talk brightly, vividly, 
and at times eloquently, of books and men. With 
a courtliness which was one of his most delightful 
characteristics, he would lure me into the con- 
versation, amusing me with gossip about what he 



saw on Wimbledon Common and ask when I next 
would accompany him on one of his walks. The 
world will always and rightly honour him as a 
great poet. To me he appealed also as a great 


<" g 

fa <* 

O s 

S S 


I BEGIN .writing this chapter in that upstairs room 
at The Pines once known as " Swinburne's 
Library." From the window in front of which 
I am sitting, the garden on which the poet's eyes 
so often rested, is in full view. He loved it. Its 
green refreshed his eyes after poring over his books 
or working at his manuscript. Spring was a season 
that always appealed to him. The garden then was 
a solace and delight. It is Spring now, and the 
picture has not changed. The high ivy-clad walls, 
the huge ferns beneath, which came from my 
husband's home at St. Ives, and the tall trees in 
the background all look as delightfully verdant as 
they did in Springs when he was on earth. 

Floriculture was not a hobby with either of the 
housemates. There are masses of purple iris on 
either side of the stretch of grass, and we boasted 



of one rose-tree. It bears the fascinating name 
of " Hebe's Lips," and was given to me by Lady 
Leighton- Warren. I planted it by the statue that 
stands in the middle of the enclosure a replica of 
the Vatican Venus, moved from Rossetti's garden 
at 16, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, to its present 
position. A thrush is singing somewhere in the 
fringe of foliage. From the outer world comes 
the hoot of a motor-horn and the rumble of heavy 
traffic. In my loneliness the past comes vividly 
back to me. And here, in this room dedicated 
to the greatest poet of the Victorian period 
recollections drive on me in waves ; my memory 
is suddenly like a stream in spate. And the 
difficulty with me is what to select as memorable 
and what to reject as trivial. 

Yet can anything that concerns the home life 
of a poet like Swinburne a genius so universally 
acclaimed be dismissed as trivial? I hope not. 
For here, in the room that was once his, 
the memories that crowd in upon me are not those 
of the maker of glorious song, but those associated 
with the affectionate friend, the lovable 
companion. His greatness does not concern me. 
My recollections are all of his little personal traits, 
his delightful idiosyncrasies, his fads and fancies 
a phase of the poet's personality unknown to the 



outside world. It is of this aspect of Swinburne 
that I now write, sitting where he often sat, and 
wondering if he has discovered whether 

His life is a watch or a vision 
Between a sleep and a sleep. 

Swinburne had no end of " fads." It was a 
whim of his, for instance, never to allow himself 
to be measured or fitted by a tailor. There must 
have been an occasion, of course, and that, too, 
when he had grown to manhood, when he was 
obliged to submit to the indignity. And I can 
imagine his restlessness and irritability when the 
tape was thrown over and around his person, when 
chalk marks were made on the " fittings," and 
when plebeian hands patted his shoulders and fussed 
over his limbs. But there came a time when he 
declared he would no longer endure the ordeal. 
And he never again did. If he wanted a new 
suit, it had to be made on the model of an old one. 
The tailor always protested : " I cannot do myself 
justice," he would say. Whereupon A. C. S. 
would consign all tailors to fire and brimstone 
to everlasting disaster in this world and to eternal 
damnation in the world to come. The affair 
would be happily arranged, and the result quite 
wonderful. The clothes were always an admirable 



fit, and though it was impossible for Swinburne 
to wear clothes to the best advantage, he always 
appeared well-dressed. From my woman's point 
of view, the extraordinary circumstance is that the 
tailor working under such harassing conditions 
was able to show such good results. 

Another curious fancy of Swinburne's was 
about soap. He had discovered or a friend had 
discovered for him a brand known as " Sam- 
phire Soap," which was extensively advertised by 
a quotation from rt King Lear ' ' : 

Half way down 
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade! 

This precious tablet smelt of the sea. Or was 
supposed to smell of the sea. A. C. S. believed 
implicitly that it was highly charged with the active 
principle of ozone. He sensed the wave in its 
odour, and the suds in his bath were refreshing to 
him as the foam of the ocean. Needless to say, 
' Samphire " soap was a thing of which we never 
permitted ourselves to " run short." I still keep 
a cake of it as a souvenir of the happiest time of 
my life. 

Swinburne seemed constitutionally averse from 
doing anything himself which he could get others 
to do for him. For instance, he refused absolutely 



to open himself any letters addressed to him except 
those from members of his family. This duty 
,was supposed to devolve on Walter. But very 
often it became mine. The handwriting and post- 
marks sufficiently indicated the family letters, 
which were given to the Bard unopened. The 
others were what one would expect letters from 
admirers, from publishers, from " friends," and 
a great number from autograph-hunters. With 
appeals of the last-named the poet's post-bag was 
always well supplied " full measure and running 
over." Most of these applicants were unknown 
persons having no claim whatever on the amiability 
of the poet. Their missives were consigned 
to the waste-paper basket. We had a printed 
form which we sent to a selected few. In 
this Mr. Swinburne " presented his compli- 
ments ' ' to the writer and regretted that he ' i was 
obliged to make it a rule not to supply his 
autograph. Some of the applicants resented this 
polite refusal. But what was one to do? Anyhow, 
it was comparatively easy to deal with this class 
of correspondent ; but Swinburne's disinclination 
to open his letters once had embarrassing conse- 
quences for me. 

My husband had handed me a batch of letters 
which from their covers appeared to be of the usual 



circular sort, or of the autograph-hunting variety, 
and I proceeded to open them mechanically. Then I 
came to a politely- worded letter from Lord Curzon 
to the poet. This, I at once felt, placed itself 
in the same category as communications from the 
family a missive which should have been opened 
only by A. C. S. himself. 'At once I jumped up 
and ran with it to Walter. Although my husband 
never in his life said an unkind word to me, I 
judged from his expression that he was greatly 
annoyed and distressed. He desired me to go to 
Swinburne myself and explain the matter. I 
went. I anticipated some irritation on the part 
of the addressee of the note perhaps words of 
rebuke and reproach. Nothing of the kind 
happened. He took the letter from me, read it, 
smiled at my expressions of apology and regret, 
and declared in his urbane way, " I am so sorry 
you should feel troubled over so trifling a thing. 
I will answer the letter myself after I have shown 
it to Walter." Days elapsed before the answer 
was written. He came into our room with it and 
handed it to my husband. " Do you think this 
will do? "he asked. No one could have guessed 
from his casual manner that the letter was of any 
particular importance. It was, however, his reply 
to Lord Curzon delicately but definitely declining 



the honorary degree offered by his old University 
of Oxford. 

Swinburne's preference for a large foolscap 
paper of an unusually deep blue will be recollected 
by those who have seen his MSS. Ream upon 
ream of this stationery must have been used up 
during the years of his life passed at The Pines. 
It was as permanent a household requirement as 
the " Samphire " soap. Perhaps, like that toilet 
requisite, it reminded him of the sea. 

No doubt the reader will find it hard to visualise 
the poet as a leader of fashion. Nevertheless, it 
has to be recorded that in one article of attire he 
set the mode. He was the pioneer of the 
starchless collar and soft-fronted shirt, for he wore 
them years before I was born. In the period to 
which he always referred as " when I was a kid 
at Eton," he had stiffness enough in his linen to 
last him a lifetime,. Freed from the tyranny 
of the Eton " house " laundress, he forswore 
starch and had the courage to sacrifice glossiness 
for comfort. It is something to have lived to see 
unstarched body-linen become as popular as the 
" Poems and Ballads." 

Fancies ought not to be confounded with fads, 



but they have a sort of cousinship with them and 
are not altogether inappropriate to this chapter. 
Let me therefore say something here about 
Swinburne's taste in newspapers. 

Lord Burnham may be interested to learn that 
Swinburne's morning paper was the Daily 
Telegraph. The Bard had no sympathy what- 
ever for Matthew Arnold's fine disdain for this 
organ ; he attributed it to jealousy. Arnold- 
he told my husband was wroth because the Daily 
Telegraph was edited for years " by a fellow of 
the same name." He would maliciously add " and 
I understand that both these journalists employ 
their moments of leisure in writing verses." The 
Telegraph appealed to him as a youth. " There is 
too much TPe-ishness about The Times," I once 
heard him say, the allusion being of course to the 
stately editorial " We " of the leading article. On 
another occasion a friend quoted to him a Times 
article in which the "We" of Printing House 
Square administered a solemn warning to a certain 
foreign power. " It reminds me," said Swinburne, 
" of an editorial article in an Irish paper called the 
Skibbereen Eagle. The article began, " We have 
our eye on Russia." 

Readers of Swinburne's poetry know that, for 
a poet, he was exceptionally interested in politics. 



They might think, however, that his interest 
depended on sudden excitements inflaming his 
patriotism or his republicanism. On the contrary, 
he was steadily interested in the political affairs of 
the world and discussed them daily with my 

In the progress of science, strangely enough, 
he took not the faintest interest, and Walter used 
often to say to me that it was useless to try to 
discuss a scientific subject with Algernon as it only 
bored him. 

In the afternoon the Bard had the Pall Mall 
Gazette. If that evening paper failed to arrive at its 
appointed time, he grew quite restless, pacing up 
and down his room and exhibiting other symptoms 
of impatience. It came and there was silence. 
He liked to read the book-notices, and as far as 
my personal knowledge of his newspaper reading 
goes, I can vouch for the absorbing interest which 
he would take in a paragraph, such as would appear 
now and then in the Pall Mall Gazette, recording 
the death of a centenarian or nonagenarian. When 
he happened on one, of these stimulating items, he 
would hurry down to us, paper in hand, and in a 
joyous mood read and remark on some paragraph 
like this : " Mrs. So-and-So has just died at the 
age of ninety-nine in full possession of all her 



faculties. Ah ! How very wonderful ! So splendid 
of her! Quite beats my aunt JM." Swinburne's 
"Aunt Ju" was invariably trotted out when 
remarkably old ladies became a topic of conversa- 
tion. Miss Julia Swinburne ("Aunt Ju ") was 
one of his favourite aunts and a fine artist. She 
was a pupil of Turner, and actually painted in the 
open air when she was nearly ninety. The poet's 
naive joy in these simple notices was on one 
occasion transferred into extravagant anger. He 
had come across an obituary notice headed " Death 
of a Centenarian." It was a rather long obituary. 
So he swooped down upon us before going through 
it, his face radiant full of the rapture of a great 
discovery. He began to read. The providential 
preservation of the old man's faculties, the facility 
with which he " read the smallest print without 
the aid of spectacles" all these things were added 
to our stock of useless knowledge. And then came 
the words unexpected by us and certainly not 
anticipated by the reader "As a youth he had 
met the Great Napoleon. Ugh ! ! " Anyone curious 
to know of what heights of violent vituperation the 
poetic soul is capable should have heard one of 
Swinburne's tirades when the name of a Bonaparte 
was mentioned. Words and combinations of 
words, weird but picturesque, issued from his 



mouth like flames from a burning chimney. 
The old man was forgotten his centenarianism 
appealed no more, his " faculties " and his mastery 
of small print were no longer of the slightest 
interest. The denunciation to which I listened 
might have been uttered by a bargee with a liberal 
knowledge of the beautiful Billingsgate of the 
Porch. To me the experience had all the delight 
of novelty, but after several similar exhibitions, I 
began to wonder how a man could work himself 
into such a passion about anything as Swinburne 
invariably achieved at the mention of a Bonaparte. 
Even Victor Hugo's literary castigation of 
Napoleon III is mild compared with Swinburne's 
impromptu diatribes against the first and the last 
emperors of that name. 

The Bard was noticeably addicted to the use of 
catchwords. Mrs. Gamp supplied him with several. 
A phrase having struck him as acutely humorous, 
he would seize upon it, repeat it, domesticate it, 
so to speak, and thenceforth trot it out on 
innumerable occasions. One example must 
suffice here. He was immensely tickled by the 
remark alleged to have been made by Charlotte 
Bronte's father when " Jane Eyre " was acclaimed 
by the critics. The remark, addressed to Emily 
and Anne, was " Charlotte has been writing a 

H 113 

book, and it is much better than likely." This 
afforded the poet ecstasies of delight. He disliked 
parsons, and he rejoiced in obtaining from 
the Brontes' clerical father what he regarded as 
a matchless specimen of critical and parsbnical 
ineptitude. Hence when some remarkable work 
was mentioned in the Bard's presence, he 
immediately fired off his "it is much better than 
likely " or " it's rather better than likely " with 
all the pleasure of a schoolboy conscious of 
doing something impish. In moods like this 
never displayed before visitors he was quite 

Very characteristic of him are the marginalia 
which he occasionally jotted against passages that 
excited him to comment while reading. As a rule 
these scribblings were not intended to be critical 
in any serviceable way ; they were, for the most 
'part, mere tokens of a mood, flippant or not as the 
case might be. Perhaps the note would be merely 
an interjection. From this you would infer just 
how the passage opposite to it had affected him. 
He hated anything unctuous or hypocritical. 
When he wished to indicate a passage which struck 
him as reeking abominably of oily hypocrisy, he 
would write on the margin, "Ah! " An ironic 
use of "Alas! " appears elsewhere; and, opposite 



a text of Scripture quoted in a pamphlet, he has 
written a la Mrs. Gamp, " Sich was his Bible 
language ! ' 

How many things come back to me now as I 
gaze into the deserted garden ! 




IN some respects Algernon Swinburne was quite 
business-like. In the ordering of his daily life he 
was as methodical as a city man. His hours were 
fixed and he was punctuality itself in observing 
them. He knew the place of every book on every 
shelf in his library. His manuscript was always 
ready to his hand. If he laid down a book he had 
been reading, he would take it up again, perhaps 
days afterwards, and re-commence reading at the 
place where he had left off. Were method and 
punctuality the only qualities demanded from a 
man of affairs, his equipment would have been 
perfect. But there are others essential to the 
complete city man. And in these he was 

Money holds a very important place in the 
transactions of business men even where money 



does not pass in coin or cheques. I have been told 
that a mere nod from a great financial operator 
may mean the transfer of hundreds of thousands 
of pounds. To the poet such a tale would appeal 
only as an example of Oriental magic, if indeed 
he did not dismiss it as grotesque. In the small 
monetary transactions of daily life the Bard was 
hopelessly incompetent. To him money was 
merely good hard coin. I believe the paper 
currency of to-day would have maddened him, and 
that John Bradbury or N. K. Warren Fisher 
would have become the constant object of his 
picturesque vituperation. Amounts on paper were 
unrealities to him. His neglect of dividend 
warrants and publishers' cheques was amazing. 

Here for instance is a letter there are others 
of a similar kind from his long-suffering 
publishers. It is dated 10th January, 1901 : 


On looking through our pass-book, we noted that the 
cheque we sent you for 200-11-9, drawn in your favour 
on July 5th, 1900, for royalties then due, has not been 
passed into the bankers, although the one for .115-9-9 
which we sent you last week, has been duly presented and 

As our previous cheque may have been lost, or 
inadvertently overlooked, we think it best to bring the 



matter under your notice. We shall be happy to issue a 
duplicate if you are unable to lay your hands upon the 
missing cheque which we shall then instruct our bankers 
to cancel, should it by any chance hereafter be presented 
to them for payment. 

With kind regards, 

We are, dear Mr. Swinburne, 
Yours very faithfully, 


I am not in a position to say what reply was sent 
to this particular letter, but it is certain that even 
a letter of this kind, a model of courtesy, would 
sometimes excite Swinburne to wrath. It would 
interrupt and bore him ; and, hating to be inter- 
rupted, or bored, he would consign, in a burst of 
rhetoric, publishers and bankers, their methods 
and their persons to every conceivable sort of 
Inferno. But this explosion would not be followed 
by any attempt to make a search for the missing 
document. Nor was the polite letter from the pub- 
lishers usually regarded by him as anything calling 
for reply or acknowledgment. Eventually, and 
in despair, the firm would write to my husband 
imploring his assistance and advice. A search would 
then be made, and the cheque would, perhaps, be, 
discovered tucked away with any old rubbish ; or 
perhaps the document would have disappeared 



from the face of the earth and the promised 
duplicate would be forwarded in due course. 

Swinburne's relations with Messrs. Chatto and 
Windus were fundamentally excellent. They 
were his publishers from 1878 to his death, and 
Mr. Andrew Chatto attended his funeral. 

I have said enough concerning the poet's 
ineptitude as a man of business. I have now to 
speak of the business faculty which he showed in 
arranging his life's routine at The Pines. The 
programme was his Own, laid^down in the days 

when he and my husband wejreJboUHbachelors, and 

^--^>"^ \ 

it was adhered to with/pathetic fidelity^ Nor was 
there anything in the assignment of hours that 
called for alteration w r hen I little more than a 
girl in years beorifhe chatelaine at The Pines. 

At about ten o'clock a.m. the poet came down 
from his bedroom and went into his library on the 
first floor. Here breakfast was at once served. 
He desired always to breakfast alone. One of his 
little fads was to Have his coffee made in an old 
silver coffee-pot, engraved with his initials, his 
companion since his not particularly joyous 
'Varsity days. He then glanced at the daily paper. 
At eleven o'clock or thereabouts he was ready for 



his .walk to Wimbledon. This, I think, was to him 
the great event of the day. He thoroughly 
enjoyed the exercise, and to his business-like 
regularity in adhering to this daily practice must 
be mainly attributed the excellent health he 
enjoyed. He went out in all weathers. He 
absolutely refused to encumber himself with an 
overcoat, umbrella or gloves. One might as well 
have offered an umbrella to an antelope or 
mountain goat. 

Towards one-thirty, he returned from his walk, 
rushed upstairs to his bedrobm with the elas- 
ticity and noise of a boy, and changed all his 
under-garments. The poet's laundry bill was a 
formidable document such dozens of shirts ! 
Swinburne's passionate desire for personal clean- 
liness is inconsistent with artistic Bohemia and its 
traditions. Fresh as the proverbial daisy, at half- 
past one he would bound into the dining-room, 
ready for lunch, and eager to talk of his adventures, 
his purchases, and his experiences generally. 

Here, as illustrating a self-control with which 
he is seldom credited, I record his avoidance 
of those dishes which he knew from experience 
were not good for him. For instance, he 
avoided shell-fish, although he liked it. Lobster 
or crab was never served. I remember once 



buying some aspic jelly which I made into 
moulds with very pink shrimps showing through 
the gelatinous transparency. He was immensely 
pleased with the appearance of the dainty. " How 
very pretty those little things look almost too 
pretty to eat !" was his comment. " 'But I think 
I must this time because you prepared it." 

Lunch at an end, the next item was the siesta. 
For this he retired to his bedroom. It lasted until 
about four, at which hour he descended to his 
library and read or wrote until six. Next to that 
of his morning walk, six o'clock w r as the hour he 
anticipated with the greatest delight. Punctually 
to the minute, he would announce himself in our 
sitting-room downstairs, armed with the volume in 
which he was interested at the time. It was usually 
a work of Dickens for the poet was a devoted 
Dickensian. At first, let me confess, the evening 
reading bored me, and I frequently avoided being 
present. But when I saw the pleasure that 
reciting his favourite " bits " afforded the poet, I 
submitted with a good grace and even experienced 
a sort of reflected pleasure in the exercise, 
although the function usually lasted for an hour 
and three-quarters something of a trial for one 
who is young and accustomed to the ordinary 

pleasures of youth. 



At eight o'clock, the reading having lasted until 
a quarter to that hour, we moved to the dining- 
room for the evening meal, and, that being over, 
Swinburne went up to his library to browse among 
his books. 

Such was the daily routine, and my husband was 
anxious that it should be observed with the most 
religious particularity. Any slight departure 
from the daily round affected Walter more than 
it affected his friend. My husband never exhibited 
any signs of annoyance or impatience, but I, who 
read him, knew. For himself it mattered nothing. 
All his fear was lest the Bard should be " put 
out " by any slight departure from the appointed 
happenings. The visits of friends, either of 
Swinburne or of my husband, were not permitted 
to make any difference in the settled programme. 
; The Hours " were regarded as sacred at The 

Although the Bard exhibited a really unheard-of 
carelessness in dealing with cheques for consider- 
able sums, he had a curious business instinct in 
asserting his commercial rights in small matters. 
For instance, when he ordered a recently-published 
book he always demanded the once obtainable 



discount of three pence in the shilling. And when 
he ordered an old book from a catalogue, he 
declined to refund the postage, observing that the 
bookseller from whom he ordered received from 
the dealer a commission which should cover any 
charges of carriage. Not so bad for a poet, I 
have often thought. 

I end this chapter with an amusing example of 
his more peculiar methods of transacting business. 
He loathed coppers in change unless they were 
quite new and bright. This dislike was not, I 
imagine, mere caprice, but arose from that passion 
for cleanliness which was part of his nature. 
Coppers looked dirty, and probably were associated 
in his mind with the dirty hands and dirty pockets 
with which they had come into contact during 
circulation. Now, he purchased at Wimbledon 
every day a copy of the Daily Graphic. It was 
not always convenient to buy five penny-worth 
of something else and so make up the sum to six- 
pence. So between them the accommodating 
newsagent and the poet hit upon the following 
device. On Monday morning Swinburne would 
tender a sixpence for his daily newspaper, and the 
vendor would give him in change five beautiful 
new pennies. These he placed in a waistcoat 
pocket by themselves and on each of the five 



succeeding days of the week he would tender a 
penny out of this reserve, which would of course 
be exhausted on the Saturday. Then on the 
following Monday a sixpence would again be 
tendered, and a similar set of clean pennies be 
given in change. 

Swinburne's explanation to the newsvendor of 
this method of purchase was softened by the 
remark that the five pennies made a sort of coin- 
calendar for the week. When the waistcoat 
pocket was empty, he knew that the day was 
Saturday and that the dreaded Sunday loomed 

A business man of sorts was the pOet, but 
boy always. 




SAVE in the brilliant parodies collected in " The 
Heptalogia," there is little trace of humour in 
the poetry of Swinburne. Even in the dramas it is 
very sparingly employed. His prose contains witty 
passages and even a disguised " Limerick," yet 
the general impression left by the perusal of 
Swinburne's works is not that of a naturally 
humorous person. The fact is, however, that he 
possessed a keen sense of humour. Like his other 
gifts, his humour was Swinburnian, in other words, 
bis own. As I recall it now, it appears to have 
bad three principal manifestations. There was his 
mordant humour ; his playful humour ; his practical 

I shall pass lightly over the first of these. It 
was reserved for persons or things distasteful to 
him. He was that " good hater " for whom Dr. 



Johnson professed a love. Indeed, I very much 
question whether the great lexicographer ever met 
a man quite as eloquent as Swinburne in the 
expression of his hatred. I sometimes felt as I 
heard him that he did not really hate the victim 
so much as his language implied. When he 
heartily meant his abuse, there was no mistaking 
the animus behind his words. Picturesque, 
extravagant, and full of unexpected phrases, his 
denunciations were delightful to those whose 
withers were not wrung. Often they would send 
Walter and me into fits of laughter, laughter in 
which the Bard would join with the utmost 
abandon. These exhibitions of humorous wrath 
were much less charming when they were made 
in conversation with visitors. They had whatever 
fun could be got out of his unsparing severity to 
offending contemporaries, but they were not 
regaled by any playfulness : they heard or saw 
none of those inimitable imitations of the 
idiosyncrasies of his victim which we of the house- 
hold were privileged to enjoy. Before the 
stranger within the gates he set bounds to his 
fancies. With us he " let himself go." 

I refrain from mentioning the names of persons 
still living at whom he was accustomed to fling 
his humorous gibes. But of those who have died 



I may mention Mr. James Anthony Froude as 
the subject of some of his most amusing outbursts. 
Swinburne simply loathed Froude, and if ridicule 
could kill, the eminent historian would have been 
gathered to his fathers long before the date at 
which he joined the great majority. I suppose 
though the poet never actually said so that his 
hatred of Froude was aroused originally by that 
historian's description of the person and estimate 
of the character of Mary, Queen of Scots. 

Swinburne's playful humour was called forth 
by incidents he witnessed during his morning 
rambles and also by items in the daily papers. He 
would hunt about in odd corners for those little 

fill-up " paragraphs which the general reader is 
apt to overlook. His " finds " in this field were an 
unfailing source of interest and mirth. He would 
rush down to us when he found something that 
tickled his fancy, read out the precious paragraph, 
fire off a humorous comment, and rush off again. 

Nothing amused him more than the proceedings 
of the Church Congress when that ecclesiastical 
assembly held its meetings at the Albert Hall ; 
or perhaps I should say that nothing amused him 
so much as the letters appearing in the correspon- 
dence columns of the Daily Telegraph commenting 
on those proceedings. These letters were a real 


joy to him day after day, and when they ceased 
he was quite gloomy for a time. The letters from 
curates on such subjects as " The Cure of Souls 
and " Disheartened Clergy " he read and re-read. 
He caught the ordinary Oxford-bred curate's 
brassy tone with wonderful accuracy. I can recall 
even now his rendering of a passage from a corres- 
pondent who was not a clergyman. Swinburne 
gave it out with a wicked joyousness. The writer 
said : " There are rectors who in a very few years 
have contrived to make almost every member of 
their flock hate the inside of a Church." 

When I complimented A. C. S. on his really fine 
imitation of a priest intoning, " Did you not 
know," he asked, " that I disappointed my family 
by not entering the Church ? Can you not imagine 
Walter and myself in Holy Orders?" this with a 
perfectly idiotic sigh. It struck me at the moment 
as being merely a joke. Walter subsequently 
informed me, however, that it was a statement of 
sober truth. The Church, I am sure, did not lose 
much ; and the world has gained, inter alia) the 
'' Hymn to Proserpine," which would scarcely 
have been in good taste had it come from the study 
of a curate, in spite of the fact that we are indebted 
to a Catholic priest for the beautiful story of 
" Manon Lescaut." 



By Swinburne's practical humour I do not mean 
elaborated practical joking of the kind that 
Theodore Hook and E. A. Sothern indulged in. 
Swinburne's practical jokes usually took a literary 
turn. I select a couple of examples, in both of 
which his object was apparently to excite my sur- 
prise and curiosity concerning something which in 
itself was not likely to arouse emotion of any sort. 

The first of these jokes occurred some time after 
my marriage, when the poet and I were on 
perfectly easy terms. He came downstairs one 
evening holding a little book. He seldom arrived 
without a book, big or little, in his hand. He 
proposed to read to us from " The Seven Poor 
Travellers ' ' of Dickens. Swinburne's face was 
much more easy to read than some of the books on 
his shelves. 'And it was not difficult to see now 
that there was mischief of some sort brewing. 
There was an air of mystery about him as he 
glanced with a sly expression from Walter to me. 
In this instance it was not with me a case of 
" forewarned, forearmed." The joke came off, and 
I was fairly " had " as Cockneys say. 

He opened the little book and made what 
lecturers call " a few preliminary remarks " on 
the peculiar merits of " The Seven Poor 
Travellers " and the brutal density of readers of 

I 129 


Dickens who know nothing of this wonderful little 
work of his. The ignorance of the average reader 
did not appear to me so extraordinary when he told 
us that the work consisted of eight chapters the 
first and the last being by Charles Dickens and 
the other six by members of the staff of Household 
Wards, of which " The Seven Poor Travellers " 
was issued as a Christmas number. George 
'Augustus Sala and Wilkie Collins were among the 
contributors. Both these writers were favourites 
with the poet. For Sala's work he always pro- 
fessed a tremendous admiration a circumstance 
which will come as a blow to those devotees who 
picture the Bard as eternally wallowing either in 
Hugo or in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. And 
a sight of the rows of " yellow backs " in 
Swinburne's bedroom would probably have 
horrified those who imagined that only " the old 
nobility " of the world of books was interesting 
to him. 

To return, however, to my anecdote : having 
concluded his prefatory remarks, Swinburne began 
to read. The opening sentence to " The Seven 
Poor Travellers " goes thus : 

Strictly speaking there were only six Poor Travellers; 
but being a traveller myself, though an idle one, and being 
withal as poor as I hope to be, I brought the number up 



to seven. This word of explanation is due at once, for 
what says the inscription over the quaint old door? 


by his Will dated 22 Aug. 1597 

founded this charity 

for Six Poor Travellers, 

who not being ROGUES or PROCTORS, 

May secure gratis for one NIGHT 

Lodging, Entertainment, 

and Four pence each. 

All this elaborate prefacing, this air of mystifica- 
tion seemed to enhance the effect of a substitution 
of One Christian name for another in the first line 
of the inscription relating to the charity of the 
eccentric Rochester testator. Swinburne paused 
before he perpetrated his joke. A flush appeared 
on his cheeks. His eyes twinkled. Then he 
uttered the words " Walter Watts." I confess 
I was completely taken in. I was in no sense of 
the word a Dickensian ; and before Swinburne 
read it, was utterly ignorant of " The Seven Poor 

Taking his manner in connection with the matter 
which he had read to us, I came to the conclusion 
that the Walter Watts of the altered inscription 
was some ancestor of the Walter Theodore Watts 
to whom I was married the very misconception 



which Swinburne meant to create. His joke 
having succeeded, he took no further liberties 
with Dickens's text. It was not until Swinburne 
left the room that I discovered how he had 
imposed upon me. 

The Bard's second attempt to get off a little joke 
at my expense was not so successful as its fore- 
runner. One day Walter asked me to read out 
to him from " Chambers's Cyclopsedia of English 
Literature " the account given of Maturin, the 
author of " Melmoth the Wanderer." I had just 
finished doing this when Swinburne came into the 
room. He looked over my shoulder to see what 
I had been reading. His eye caught, on the top 
of the page preceding that upon which I had been 
at work, the name Matthew Gregory Lewis. 
Instead of plunging into the merits and demerits 
of " Melmoth," as I had half expected he would 
have done, he politely asked me to give him the 
volume. As he took it, he said, " I should so 
much like to read you the most wonderful ballad 
of the Eighteenth Century." I professed myself 
delighted and was preparing myself for the enjoy- 
ment of an intellectual treat. However, I noticed 
that the two friends exchanged glances. My 
husband had his tongue in his cheek, and 
Swinburne's eyes were beginning to dance with 



mischief. I recognised the symptoms. Experience 
had made me wary. I was not to be " had " a 
second time. 

As was his wont he began with a little prelude. 
He explained the properties of the ballad, and 
desired that in listening to this example of ballad 
literature I should pay particular attention to the 
awful fate that overtook the heroine. I dare say 
a good many readers know the poem. Some of 
them, perhaps, like it. But few, I imagine, ever 
got a tenth part of the fun out of it that Swinburne 
did on that occasion. His only failure was in 
pretending that he was dealing with " the most 
wonderful ballad of the Eighteenth Century." 
For I knew " Alonzo the Brave and the 
Fair Imogene " perfectly well, and, with all my 
limitations, was capable of noting the difference 
between the dross and the gold of literature. 
Swinburne exhibited unbounded humour in his 
delivery of this grotesquely sensational poem. As 
its vogue is over, I quote two of its seventeen 
stanzas. The ballad begins : 

A warrior so bold, and a virgin so bright, 

Conversed as they sat on the green; 
They gazed on each other with tender delight : 
Alonzo the Brave was the name of the Knight 

The maiden's the Fair Imogene. 


And this is the last stanza : 

While they drink out of skulls newly torn from the grave, 

Dancing round them the spectres are seen ; 
Their liquor is blood, and this horrible stave 
They howl : " To the health of Alonzo the Brave, 
And his consort, the Fair Imogene." 

"Monk" Lewis here brought gruesomeness to 
a climax. His ballad naturally lends itself to 
burlesque, and in burlesque I first made its 
acquaintance. But no burlesque of this " most 
.wonderful ballad " could outdo Swinburne's serio- 
comic rendering. He seemed to revel in the grim 
idiocy of Lewis's incidents and situations. He 
had enough sympathy with the macabre to take 
some gruesome stories seriously ; but Alonzo and 
Imogene were altogether too much for his sense 
of the ludicrous to remain dormant under the pro- 
vocation of their remarkable woes. The tone he 
adopted in rendering the lines which he most 
desired to ridicule resembled the peculiar unctuous 
drawl of an intoning curate the long O's being 
dwelt on and drawn out in a highly diverting 

He achieved a tour de force in the recitation of 
the crowning stanza, which he made a crescendo 
of gruesome horror. I shall never forget that 



amazing performance. The Bard as an entertainer 
was at his best. The accidental nature of the 
reading increased its charm. I never heard him 
revert to Lewis's ballad again ; but this single 
recitation was enough to prove to me beyond all 
doubt that Swinburne's sense of humour was 
exceptionally keen and alert. 





ANY description of the home life of Swinburne 
that omitted to mention Dickens, would be 
grievously incomplete. The author of the 
"Pickwick Papers" was simply adored by the 
poet, who was as much at extremes in his admira- 
tions as in his dislikes. My husband also admired 
the great Victorian novelist's works, though in a 
less ardent degree. Thus, during my married life, 
I lived more or less in a Dickens atmosphere, but 
I was born more than a decade too late to share 
the enthusiasm of those who read Dickens while 
he was still alive. I had escaped the glamour 
which "the inimitable" shed upon contempor- 
aries. I belong to a generation which has set up 
other demigods, the worship of whom would be 
regarded by the true Dickensian as mere idolatry. 
Nevertheless, I can understand the devotional 



enthusiasm of those who lived while Dickens was 
still writing, putting forth as he himself 
expressed it his two green leaves a month. They 
would feel, as younger people could not, the truth 
to life of Dickens's characters, and the realism of 
the descriptions of scenes which have changed. 
The great " Dust Heap " of oblivion which, like 
Mr. Boffin's mounds, are supposed to contain so 
much that is valuable, is not a dust heap to every- 
body. The contemporaries of Dickens breathed 
his atmosphere. We others are mentally too 
removed from it to enjoy it as perhaps it deserves. 
Unfortunately the Dickens readings to which 
Swinburne so insistently treated us were not at all 
calculated to create an enthusiasm. Even his 
recitation of the dialogues between Sarah Gamp 
and Betsy Prig failed to move me and the amours 
of Mrs. Corney and the Beadle left me cold. At 
school I had gone through a course of elocution. 
I had " taken " to it, and was reported by my 
instructor to show unusual aptitude. Therefore, 
my attitude to reciters was, in a way, that of an 
expert. When I found that, in his rendering of 
Dickens, A. C. S. ruthlessly disregarded all the 
rules of the game as I had been taught to play it, 
I was first surprised, then bored, but finally such 
is the influence of a remarkable person, apart from 



the success or failure of ,what he happens to be 
doing when one observes him I became inter- 

Swinburne's voice was curiously unsuited to the 
interpretation of Dickens. I was amazed to read 
that he possessed a "rich contralto! ' To my 
thinking the quality of his voice was distinctly 
male, verging on falsetto when he was excited and 
on its high notes. At its best, it was musical 
and sometimes tender. He did not command 
many tones, and his voice, in later life at any rate, 
had an ineradicable metallic quality which inter- 
fered with its flexibility. And when the reader 
was carried away by the pathos or the passion or 
the rollicking humour of his author, he had 
a tendency to rise to a kind of involuntary shriek, 
unpleasant to hear. 

I confess that I went through a stage of boredom 
during these readings from Dickens one might 
almost say, these Dickensian devotions. Happily 
this stage did not last long. The unalloyed satis- 
faction, sometimes intensified to obvious rapture, 
which the reading of his favourite writer of fiction 
gave the poet, evoked a sympathetic response from 
his audience of two One could not witness his 



excessive affection for the Dickens characters 
without being moved by a kindred feeling. In 
spite of his natural defects as an elocutionist, 
Swinburne's peculiar manner of reading grew 
upon you. You endured, you tolerated, and at 
last you enjoyed and looked forward to it. 

Moreover, his elocutionary exhibitions gave me 
furiously to think. How came it that a man of 
Swinburne's temperament, tastes, classical equip- 
ment, and high poetic achievement should have 
come so completely under the thraldom of 
Dickens ? What in the name of wonder could the 
author of "Atalanta in Calydon ' and "Ave 
atque Vale " have in common with the writer of 
" Martin Chuzzlewit " and the " Pickwick 
Papers ' ' ? 

Some minor resemblances I have not failed to 
note. Both these great writers, for instance, 
wrote from time to time in dramatic form. 
Neither wrote successfully for the stage. Here 
let me point out that it has been stated that 
" Locrine " was the only work by Swinburne to 
be played in his lifetime, whereas the fact is that 
" Atalanta " was staged in 1907, although he 
himself took precious little interest in the 
production. It is quite true that in his later years 
A. C. S. disclaimed any desire to see his plays 



staged. Almost the only time that I knew him 
to be cross with me was in connection with his 
uncomplimentary attitude to the theatre. He had 
been reading to me from " The Duke of 
Gandia," and when he came to the culminating 
point of the wonderful last act, I could not help 
exclaiming, "What a splendid curtain!' He 
put down the book, regarded me freezingly, and 
said in a tone of grave rebuke, " I never write for 
the stage." I knew him pretty well by this time. 
I knew all about the attempt that had been made 
to get " Bothwell " acted had indeed pored over 
a copy of that work which had been cut about, 
altered, and enriched by stage directions. So I 
did not take the rebuke lying down. On the 
contrary, I stood up to the poet, argued the point 
with him, and saw his little mood of irritation pass 
and his old boyish spirit return. He was quite 
abashed at having had the temerity to rebuke me, 
and when I told him that both Walter and I con- 
sidered " Chastelard ' had splendid dramatic 
moments and ought to be put on the boards, he 
looked extremely pleased and never attempted to 
contradict me. 

Both Dickens and Swinburne loved an audience. 
Swinburne would go on reading to an audience of 
two persons for hours. Dickens, as is well known, 



made large sums of money by his public readings. 
The difference between the readers was of course 
greatly in favour of the novelist. Dickens was a 
born actor. His voice, we have been told, was 
capable of wonderful inflections and his mastery 
over the sympathies of his audience magnetic 
and irresistible. Almost all that Dickens was 
in this respect Swinburne was not. But the 
attitude towards the audience in both men was 
the same. 

What are known as " socialistic leanings ' 
characterised both the novelist and the poet. Both 
had ideals and envisaged a socialism that would 
ameliorate the condition of the poor without 
putting an undue strain on the social system as 
it exists. And I imagine that the socialism both 
of Dickens and Swinburne was founded quite as 
much on hatred of the rich as on affection for the 
needy. They both harboured unkindly feelings 
towards the w r ealthy. Dickens has revealed his 
attitude in Podsnap, Parsons, Mr and Mrs. Merdle 
and Bounderby. He had no use whatever for 
plutocrats, unless, like the Cheeryble Brothers in 
" Nicholas Nickleby," they distributed their gains 
to the deserving poor. But Swinburne's detesta- 
tion of the rich was founded on no excessive 
love for their less fortunate brothers. In 



principle he made common cause with the 
proletariat. In practice the needs of the people 
troubled him no more than the claims of the 
equator. His abstract hatred of rich men was, 
however, very real. He would, if the man 
possessed compensating qualities, just tolerate the 
inheritor of riches. But for the citizen who had 
made money in trade or in the city he harboured 
the feeling of deadly malevolence. Some of the 
most eloquent denunciatory outbursts I have heard 
from him were on this subject. He did not value 
money himself. He detested all those who did. 

Perhaps the reader will be inclined to smile when 
I say that another point of resemblance between 
Swinburne and Dickens is that both the great 
.writers were poets. True, Dickens was a poet only 
in a small way, and I do not rest his poetic claim on 
his occasional lyrics * ' The Ivy Green ' ' for 
example but on his prose. Here he sang uncon- 
sciously. One has only to read the account of the 
funeral of Little Nell in "The Old Curiosity Shop" 
to be assured of this. It is rhythmical throughout, 
and with very slight alteration could be arranged 
to run its course in blank verse. This was pointed 
out to me by my husband. I have, I confess, 
never heard Swinburne's views on the subject. But 
it is reasonable to infer that the rhythmical quality 




of much of Dickens's prose appealed to the Bard 
and cemented the sympathy which he extended 
to everything Dickens wrote. 

In English fiction Dickens was his first love. 
In that small space of his life covered by his 
expression " When I was a kid at Eton," the 
time during which the Master was still putting out 
his " two green leaves " a month, he came under 
the Dickens spell, and he remained under it to the 
last. He had the same sort of affection if lessen 
degree for Dickens that he entertained for thosev v 
members of his family who were the companions \ 
of his boyhood. He admired Scott. He venerated 
Hugo. He loved Dickens. 

I agree with those critics who regard Swin- 
burne's book, " Charles Dickens," as an unsatis- 
factory performance. It could scarcely be anything 
else, made up, as it is, of two " commissioned ' 
articles. It does not adequately inform us of the 
writer's preferences. It is not a scientific piece 
of criticism. It is literary adulation eloquent, 
interesting, but hardly illuminative. One or two 
examples of critical insight redeem the essay. He 
thinks, for instance, that Little Nell in " The Old 
Curiosity Shop " and Oliver Twist in the novel of 



the same name are too good to be true to nature. 
Oliver, indeed, he dismisses as " rather too like 
the literary son and heir of a maiden lady." 

Sarah Gamp was one of his prime favourites. 
He revelled in her conversational eccentricities. It 
mattered not how often her aphorisms were quoted 
by him, they never failed to excite him to ecstasies 
of mirth. One passage was a particular favourite 
of his. I can hear him now repeating it, and I 
can catch an echo of the unrestrained laughter that 
followed its delivery. I confess it always failed to 
tickle my own sense of humour. This is the passage : 
" ' I have know'd that sweetest and best of women/ 
said Mrs. Gamp, shaking her head and shedding 
tears, ' ever since afore her First, which Mr. 
Harris who was dreadful timid went and stopped 
his ears in a empty dog-kennel, and never took his 
hands away or come out once till he was showed 
the baby, wen bein' took with fits, the doctor 
collared him and laid him on his back upon the airy 
stones, and she was told to ease her mind, his owls 
was organs.' I accustomed myself to join in th( 
laughter that followed the recitation, feeling al 
the while that I was an awful hypocrite. For 
time the cryptic statement " his owls was organs ' 
interested me. But Walter translated the sentence 
into English for me, and after that, even the owls 



and organs failed to stir me to the slightest 

Wilkins Micawber and Dick Swiveller were 
persons whose views and adventures possessed an 
unfailing attraction for the poet. He seemed to 
regard them rather as friends with whom he had 
been associated all his life than as mere dramatis 
personss in works of fiction. When he referred 
to them, it was as though he were speaking of 
living contemporaries. But of all the characters 
in the whole range of the Dickens creation none 
appealed so surely and directly to Swinburne's 
sense of humour as one who never appears in 
person on the novelist's stage who is heard of 
but never seen. I refer to Old Bill Barley in 
" Great Expectations." Bill Barley, it will be 
remembered, is a bed-ridden old blasphemer "with 
the gout in his right hand and everywhere else." 
' Old Barley's sustained growl vibrated in the 
beam that crossed the ceiling." ..." The 
growl swelled into a roar again and a frightful 
bumping noise was heard above, as if a giant with 
a wooden leg was trying to bore it through the 
ceiling to come at us." 

The particular passage that Swinburne loved to 
repeat and how often I have heard him ! was 
this : " As we passed Mr. Barley's door, he was 

K 145 


heard hoarsely muttering within, in a strain that 
rose and fell like the wind, the following refrain, 
in which I substitute good wishes for something 
quite the reverse : 'Ahoy ! Bless your eyes, 
here's old Bill Barley. Here's old Bill Barley, 
bless your eyes. Here's old Bill Barley on the 
flat of his back, by the Lord. Lying on the flat 
of his back, like a drifting old dead flounder, 
here's your old Bill Barley, bless your eyes. Ahoy ! 
Bless you ! ' Swinburne used to give this with 
immense unction and emphasis, supplying in place 
of the innocuous " Bless you ' the form of 
objurgation which old Bill Barley may have been 
supposed to employ. In Bill Barley, Swinburne 
had probably encountered a kindred spirit, for as I 
have already said, his own vituperative vocabulary 
was most picturesque and was practically unlimited. 
But with the magnanimity of true genius he 
permitted Bill Barley to "go one better." 
Whenever he had finished his rendering of Barley's 
comminatory growl, he invariably indulged in 
warmly appreciative comments, such as, " What a 
wealth of language!" "How wonderful!" 
' What a magnificent gift of metaphor ! ' It was 
impossible to say how much of this commendation 
was intended to be taken seriously. But his 
affection for the gouty old reprobate was unaffected 



and sincere, and the Bill Barley monologue was 
one of Swinburne's most cherished "bits." 

If Bill Barley was the character most endeared 
to A. C. S., the novel in which Barley appears 
or rather in which he does not appear was his 
favourite book of the Dickens series. He greatly 
loved " David Copperfield," but on the whole he 
perhaps admired most " Great Expectations." 
And there is a great deal to be said in favour of 
Swinburne's choice. The monstrously unnatural 
figure and absurdly unconvincing surroundings of 
Miss Havisham, overshadow the pages and give 
an air of unreality to the whole narrative. But 
take out Miss Havisham altogether and enough 
remains to justify and account for Swinburne's 
preference. Jaggers and Wemmick, Joe Gargery, 
and Mr. Pumblechook, Orlick and Magwitch 
these are creations worthy of a great novelist. 
And the story itself shows evidences of constructive 
power which seem to me to be singularly absent in 
those earlier works of Dickens which are considered 
his best. The narrative proceeds without prolixity 
and has artistic merits which are relatively rare. 
On the whole then, Swinburne's selection of 
" Great Expectations " is justifiable. 




IN this chapter I will endeavour to describe my first 
Christmas (that of 1905) at The Pines in the com- 
pany of Algernon Swinburne, and as it resembles 
other equally joyous Christmases spent under the 
same roof, this one may be'regarded'as typical of all. 

Alas ! my inability to use more than a tyro's 
skill in painting my picture demands that the 
reader shall use his own imagination to assist him 
to visualise a scene worthy of the pen of Dickens 
himself. Indeed my recollection of Christmas at 
The Pines mainly concerns the influence that " the 
Master " exercised in our household at and about 
December 25th. 

We had a perfect glut of Dickens then. To 
me it was a revelation : the idolatry by two poets 
of a personage whom I only knew through the 
medium of two or three novels. To Swinburne 



and Walter, Dickens stood for the very spirit of 
Christmas itself, and everything they did, and a 
great deal they said, echoed the feelings with which 
he animated them. 

Sometimes I ask myself which of the two 
friends did the most in bringing the Dickens 
atmosphere into the home. One thing is clear : 
Swinburne was mad I can use no other term 
about nearly everything that Dickens wrote. 
When he was regaling us with " Martin 
Chuzzlewit " it was apparent that he knew long 
passages of it by heart, so little did he seem to rely 
on the book open before him. 

Walter, with less exuberance, shared Swinburne's 
admiration, and it was chiefly owing to his desire 
to gratify his housemate and at the same time to 
honour the famous dead, that the Christmas anni- 
versary at The Pines became a Dickens festival. 
Though Swinburne enjoyed it all, he was certainly 
not the magician who permeated our home with 
the Christmassy atmosphere of revelry. I cannot 
picture him paying homage to Dickens by 
planning a Christmas programme according to the 
traditions of Boz. It was Walter who kept the 
torch of good fellowship burning, and who so it 
seemed to me was symbolical of the genial Mr. 
Wardle of "Pickwick." 



It was for me very new and wonderful, this idea 
of celebrating Christmas in the good old-fashioned 
manner, hitherto only known to me by what I had 
read in books or seen illustrated in the Christmas 
annuals. And this idea of bringing in Dickens 
a genial ghost as the presiding genius, seemed 
to me delightfully unique. 

Strangely enough, the zest of the two friends 
in Christmas was just as keen as when they first 
celebrated it at The Pines in precisely the same 
way twenty-six years before. Here, in 1879, as 
they stood together before the Christmas tree of 
little five-year old Bertie Mason,* they both 
vowed that whatever of good br ill-fortune the 
passing year had brought to them, Christmas 
would always find them young in heart and 

Walter wrote a sonnet to celebrate the occasion, 
and as it; describes far more clearly than I can in 
what attitude of mind both Swinburne and he 
regarded the closing of the passing year, I quote 
it here : 

Life still hath one romance that naught can bury 
Not Time himself, who coffins Life's romances 
For still will Christmas gild the year's mischances, 

If Childhood comes, as here, to make him merry 

* The hero of Swinburne's " Dark Month." 


To kiss with lips more ruddy than the cherry 
To smile with eyes outshining by their glances 
The Christmas tree to dance with fairy dances 

And crown his hoary head with leaf and berry. 

And as for us, dear friend, the carols sung 
Are fresh as ever. Bright is yonder bough 

Of mistletoe as that which shone and swung 
When you and I and Friendship made a vow 
That Childhood's Christmas still should seal each brow 

Friendship's, and yours, and mine and keep us young. 

This vow the poets had literally and spiritually 
kept, and the festival was looked forward to by 
them with a joy resembling that of a schoolboy 
home for the holidays. The delights of anticipa- 
tion were apparent in their childlike demeanour ; 
the years were rolled behind them, and many traits 
of the boy peeped out in them at this season. 
They were never too old for Santa Claus. 

As the season advanced Swinburne would notice 
during his walks if the holly trees promised a good 
supply of red berries. If they did, he would remark 
with all the glee of a ten-year old youngster, " I 
expect there'll be a lovely lot of berries on the 
holly this Christmas.'' 

One fact that made this particular Christmas 
stand out for me in bold and happy relief was that 
it was the Christmas directly after my marriage, 



which had only taken place in the preceding month. 
Oh ! the delights of shopping with Walter in the 
late December afternoons. My mind, reverting 
to them, brings back a score of golden memories. 
It was at dusk when the shops are brilliantly lighted 
that he preferred to saunter with me in busy and 
crowded Oxford Street and Regent Street. Many 
a precious hour did we waste gazing into shop 
windows at the temptations offered to our purse ; 
but we voted the time well spent, and Walter con- 
sidered it part of my education as a budding 
Dickensian to observe and take full advantage of 
the interesting scenes going on around us. 

As we marched gaily along, he regaled me with 
anecdotes of Old Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, so 
that I could mentally see these Christmas creations 
of the Master's fancy. Walter amused himself 
by imagining whence the people came whom we 
saw staring at the shops. These, he would say, 
were from the country ; those from the East End ; 
in each case the West End was their paradise of 
sightseeing. When we came across a shabby man 
accompanied by a swarm of children whose noses 
were glued to a shop window, he would nudge my 
arm and remark, " Look, there goes the worthy 
Bob and the little Cratchits." 

There was fun, too, in returning home in the 



evening with our purchases, and finding Swinburne 
placidly ensconced in his cosy sitting-room, quite 
unaware that all the afternoon we had formed a 
part of London's jostling crowd of shoppers. To 
imagine him one of them was impossible. Never- 
theless, he did do Christmas shopping, though not 
with crowds. He did it in his own leisurely way. 
For years he pursued the same course, going about 
it calmly and methodically in easy stages during 
his walks to Wimbledon. 

As Christmas approached he selected with great 
care the gifts and cards he intended for his friends 
and relations. There was something rather 
charming about this proceeding on the part of 
one who so heartily detested writing letters or 
transacting business of any sort. He even found a 
keen pleasure in his Christmas shopping, and gave 
himself a lot of trouble about it. He never thought 
of adopting the modern habit of ordering so many 
dozens of the same card with the sender's name 
and address printed thereon. On the contrary, 
he made a distinct choice in the purchase of each 
individual card. 

In his arduous task he invariably called upon 
Miss Frost of the Wimbledon book-shop to assist 
him. He would sally forth across the Common, 
the end he had in view imparting a spice of mystery 



and adventure to his walk. We were not 
supposed to know what was going on, and it was 
not until the day before Christmas that anybody 
knew the nature of his purchases. Then he would 
gleefully show what he had been at such pains to 
procure. He would show me first the Christmas 
card he had got for Walter, asking me meanwhile 
not to tell him. In a like manner he would tell 
Walter not to say a word that he had also got one 
for me " hidden up his sleeve." 

He always seemed quite pleased with everything 
he had bought, yet he appeared uncertain as to 
what the recipient would think of the little gifts. 
He would enquire anxiously, " Do you think he " 
(or " she " as the case might be) " will like it? " 
On being reassured on this head, he would give a 
little satisfied sigh, as if the question were quite 
momentous, and murmur with relief, " Oh, I'm 
so glad you think so too ! " 

I remember once how excited he was about a 
card he had bought for Walter. No child could 
have looked more pleased at finding the toy he had 
sighed for in his "Christmas stocking." It was 
a tiny reproduction of Turner's " Fighting 
Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken 
up." Swinburne's joy at having secured it was 
something to remember. He was as pleased 



as Punch. His amazement at seeing one of 
his favourite pictures beautifully printed on a 
fourpenny card was unbounded, and his exclama- 
tions of surprise were astonishing. He wanted 
to know how it could possibly be done for 
the money, and deemed himself fortunate in 
obtaining such a bargain. " I wonder what 
Walter will say about it? " he exclaimed. "I 
think it is a perfect little masterpiece. I do hope 
he will like it," etc., etc. These ecstatic phrases 
were repeated as he gazed at his prize. Even in 
the matter of choosing Christmas cards as in the 
case of babies and "the insuperable sea," he 
showed a curious tendency to believe that every- 
body's tastes must coincide with his own. Because 
he adored the sea, he imagined all the Universe 
must do likewise, and he rarely bought a card that 
did not bear witness to the fact ; he once declared 
in a letter to Clarence Stedman, when speaking of 
this passion, " Its salt must have been in my blood 
before I was born." 

At Christmas time the little shop at Wimbledon 
was crowded with customers, so the poet would 
make straight for the owner's private parlour 
adjoining. Here, secure from interruption and 
offensive observation, he would sit at a table 
apart, and leisurely turn over the cards on a tray 



set before him. " Show me anything with ships 
on it," he would say ; and if by some lucky chance 
a ship in full sail ploughing the main revealed itself, 
it was seized upon with avidity and borne off in 
triumph. But he was not always successful in 
procuring just what he wanted ; and when the card- 
trays failed to yield the harvest he desired, he 
would abruptly leave his seat and stalk out of the 
parlour, murmuring to Miss Fost as he passed 
through the shop, " I don't see anything else I 
like." Next day he would return and enthusias- 
tically resume the search, hopeful, as his friend 
Micawber of immortal memory, of " something 
turning up." 

But Swinburne's quest for cards was a small 
affair compared with the far more enthralling and 
important task of selecting Christmas presents. 
These nearly always took the form of books, which, 
by the way, he was apt to bestow on his favourites 
at any time in the year. But at Christmas he 
let himself go with a lavish hand and always 
chose expensive books. If an attractive book was 
displayed on Miss Frost's counter, it did not 
require much conjecture on the part of the book- 
seller as to who would be likely to buy it. Directly 
the poet entered he was automatically attracted 
towards It. He would take it up, and after looking 



through it attentively for a while he would say, 
"This is very nice. I'll take it." But when 
it came to choosing anything for Walter he was 
seriously perplexed. He had given that man of 
innumerable books almost every work he cared to 
add to such a collection, and it was really difficult 
to think of something for him which would not be 
like coals sent to Newcastle. For weeks before 
Christmas, Swinburne would try to ascertain by all 
manner of ingenious little devices what book or 
books would be welcome to Walter. He would 
pore over catalogues in the hope of finding some 
treasure he thought might take his friend's fancy. 

I can see him now, catalogue in hand, with his 
finger on the page containing the descriptions of 
the book he had in mind, his face lit up with the 
hope that his question, " What do you think of 
that ? ' ' would produce a response favourable to his 
meditative generosity. But one Christmas a 
surprise awaited Walter. His present was not a 
book this time ! 

On one of his pilgrimages Swinburne had espied 
a bust of his beloved Dickens modelled in wax 
hanging up in Miss Frost's shop. It was mounted 
on a background of blue in a circular black frame. 
Could he but succeed in obtaining it, a load would 
be taken off his mind, and the problem of what 




to buy Walter for a Christmas present would be 
at once removed. As he gazed with longing eyes 
towards the coveted object, he became positively 
fidgety to buy it. If the proprietor would part 
with it, it must become his. Yes, it was for sale, 
he was told. " How much? " enquired the poet, 
thinking that such a treasure ought to be procured 
regardless of cost. Four-and-sixpence was the 
price demanded. " I'll take it with me now," 
eagerly replied the poet as he at once closed with 
the offer. 

The eulogies exchanged between the giver and 
the receiver when the waxen Dickens was 
produced on Christmas Day, fully repaid the poet 
for his trouble. Walter was delighted with it. 
If it had cost its weight in gold it could not have 
been more appreciated. I sometimes look at it 
now as a memento of never-to-be-forgotten days ! 

Whatever Christmas appeals came to Swin- 
burne's notice, none received more prompt 
attention than that of a certain Society for aiding 
Seamen. Forgetful and absent-minded as he was 
about mundane affairs and he included the 
operation of filling in cheques among the curses 
that beset mankind he never allowed this appeal 



to escape his memory. In fact, at Christmas it 
was uppermost in his mind. Whether it was due 
to a sense of duty or of pleasure I do not pretend 
to say, but the sending of his contribution to his 
" Mariners," as he used to call his beneficiaries, 
never irked him in the least. After he had written 
his cheque, he would come downstairs and 
announce to Walter in a pleased and happy voice, 
"Here's my cheque for the 'Mariners!' I'm 
going to send it off now so that it will get there 
in good time." After Swinburne died this duty 
devolved on Walter, and although Isabel (Miss 
Swinburne) would write to remind either Walter 
or me not to forget "Algernon's Mariners," my 
husband was always the first to remember it, and 
however busy he might happen to be, "Algernon's 
cheque " was always despatched. 

Towards December 25th almost every day 
brought bulky and interesting packages from 
friends of either Swinburne or Walter. These 
.would often be opened by me, and sometimes the 
contents proved both surprising and amusing. 

The turkey deserves a special notice and a 

description of this prepossessing bird may divert 

the reader, for it stands out in the annals of 

' Turkeydom ' as a unique specimen differing 

from any other of its kind in one unusual 



particular. It was a veritable plutocrat in 
appearance and half covered with gold ! Shorn 
of feathers and hanging up in a poulterer's 
shop in the cold staring immodesty of the 
" altogether," a turkey is by no means a pleasing 
or edifying-looking object to the artistic eye, 
although from a gastronomic point of view it makes 
quite a different appeal. But the " gilded fowl ' 
that annually came as a present from Lady 
Leighton Warren the sister of the poet Lord de 
Tabley was a very superior spectacle. When it 
came it was paraded round the house as a huge 
joke, and I christened it " Midas." Pinned to its 
breast were many " orders " rosettes of ribbon 
of divers hues, and the head, feet and scaly shanks, 
and the whole of its long, hideous, fleshy pro- 
tuberance of mottled red and blue neck were 
discreetly covered by a thick layer of gold paint. 

Lying in state in a box lined with frilled pink 
and white paper, and decked out with all the finery 
of festoons of variegated holly and sprigs of mistle- 
toe, the recumbent scion of a noble house looked 
almost too gorgeous to be eaten. 

For the purpose of buying Swinburne's present, 
Walter and I decided that a final rampage would 



prove an interesting wind-up to a busy week. We 
didn't know what to give the poet, and on 
Christmas Eve when it was growing quite late, we 
happened to be passing Buszard's in Oxford Street, 
and seeing a large printed card in the window 
bearing the inscription " Partridge Pies ' we 
entered the shop and Walter asked for one. 

The place resembled a bee-hive, so crowded 
was it with late shoppers. A harassed-looking 
assistant came forward and conducted us to a 
counter where wonderful erections, like miniature 
haystacks, were on view. We chose a medium- 
sized one for our joint present to Algernon, and 
while it was being packed up, Walter walked to 
another part of the shop and came back to where 
I was sitting, bearing in his hands a box of crackers. 
; Who on earth have you bought those for? " I 
enquired, for I considered crackers quite a 
ridiculous institution, and never intended buying 
any. " Not for you, 9 ' he retorted with an 
amused chuckle, and an accent on the pronoun. 
4 I know you are far too old for that sort of 
thing, so I've bought them for somebody who 
will appreciate them, and you'll see who that is 
to-morrow ! 

Our chief concern now was the safe transit of 
the pie. As it made a heavy parcel, we carried 

L 161 


it in turns, and while I was custodian of the 
crackers, Walter was responsible for the pie and 
vice versa. In this manner we arrived home, 
happy and hungry, to find that quite a transfor- 
mation had been effected during our absence. The 
house was gay with decorations, and I must say 
that at The Pines we were not satisfied with half- 
hearted exhibitions of festivity. There was always 
a great piece of mistletoe hanging in the hall, and 
even the staircase and passages were decorated. 
The " Christmassy " look of the home at this 
festive season enhanced by holly and mistletoe 
reaching nearly to the ceiling and adorning every 
picture frame, delighted the Bard. 

Whilst we were dining, a loud peal at the front 
door-bell resounded along the hall. It surely 
could not be the " Waits " the two or three 
wretched urchins who call themselves " carol 
singers " would not ring until they had finished 
afflicting us with " When Shepherds watch their 
flocks by night," and similar dirges, for dirges they 
were as tortured by these dreadful small boys. 
Our surmise was correct ; the boys were still sing- 
ing through the letter-box in their high treble 
voices, and the maid came in with the announce- 
ment that Mr. Macllvaine's butler had just left 
a big box with his master's compliments. 



This friend, knowing the predilections of the 
housemates for anything savouring of Christmas 
had always endeavoured to make his present 
appropriate to the occasion. He certainly 
achieved a coup this time. When the box was 
opened, it revealed a Yule log. It was made of 
some kind of composition or papier mache, and 
hollowed out so that it could be lighted up inside. 
1 determined to use it as a table decoration on 
the morrow. This was a happy thought, for 
Swinburne was charmed with it. 

Christmas Day, as is usual in this country of 
topsy-turvy climatic conditions, was muggy and 
warmish, instead of the hoped-for cold and frosty 
morning. This did not please Swinburne at all. 
He resented any whimsical vagaries on the part 
of the Clerk of the Weather. He declared at such 
times he was being cheated out of his rights. 
What would have pleased him was the scene of the 
Christmas card of childhood's tradition, a land- 
scape covered with snow, trees clothed in a frosty 
mantle, icicles hanging from the water-spouts, and 
all the rest of the paraphernalia of an old-fashioned 
winter. W^hen it was "blowing great guns" he was 
happy, and cold weather so exhilarated him that 
had there been a snowstorm, and he unable to be 
out in it, he would have suffered like Tantalus. 


It did not, however, really matter to the poet 
what the weather was on Christmas Day. At the 
best of times, the Sabbath Day was by no means 
calculated to make his heart rejoice, for on that 
day he was deprived of his usual walk, and on that 
account alone he heartily detested it. Wimbledon 
Common, on week-days so restful and unpopu- 
lated, was invariably thronged on Sundays and 
at holiday times. Swinburne never crossed the 
threshold then, but remained indoors, a very 
uneasy victim until the crowds had disappeared and 
left him free to enjoy his walk in peace and quiet. 

With Christmas Day and Boxing Day the 
prospect of " half a week of Sundays " had to be 
faced with as much resolution as the poet could 
muster. So with the characteristic fortitude of 
a Mark Tapley, he prepared to make the best of 
it and took credit in being jolly. 

The arrival of the postman proved a diversion, 
and his budget of cards never failed to amuse him. 
Naturally he got a goodly supply from strangers. 
What became of these latter, I cannot say. They 
disappeared and that is all one knew of them. 
But cards from relatives and intimate friends 
adorned his mantlepiece for days. These messages 
of goodwill always contained some allusion to his 
two pet subjects the sea and the children ; and 



Walter responded to Swinburne's gift of a 
pictured ship by one at the New Year of a pictured 
baby. It is before me now as I write : 

To the Child-lover A. C. S. 

From T. Watts-Dunton, New Year's Day, 1906. 

On this same occasion a great triumph was 
secured by the poet's sister, Isabel, who had the 
happy thought of presenting her brother with a 
set of reproductions of the ten Bambini by Andrea 
della Robbia which ornaments the front of the 
Ospedale degli Innocenti (Foundling Hospital) at 

These quaintly swaddled little boys are not 
of equal attractiveness, though doubtless all 
are beautiful examples of skill in modelling. 
But Swinburne was enthusiastic about them 
all. He had seen the originals in Italy, 
and as he showed the little pictures one after 
another, he could not make up his mind 
which baby bore off the palm for beauty. 
How small a thing can gladden the heart of 
a great man, and for the time being the Bambini 
made him forget it was a sort of Sunday and 
that there was no going out for him. As it 
happened, he managed to fill in his day quite 
comfortably. There were always his books his 



solace and his delight to browse on. Moreover, 
there were several chapters from "A Christmas 
Carol " to be rehearsed for the Dickens reading in 
the evening, and he devoted some time to getting 
as near word-perfect as possible. As I have 
mentioned, I was astonished when I first heard 
him read " Martin Chuzzlewit " to find he did 
not so much appear to be reading, as speaking a 
part learned by rote. Walter told me that 
Swinburne seldom read anything from Dickens 
without having previously made a careful study of 
the chapter or chapters before reading them aloud. 
Here again was an instance of imitation being the 
sincerest form of flattery. Dickens must have 
done the same when reading his own works to 
crowded audiences. 

As in most houses, our Christmas dinner was a 
family affair a jolly and homely little gathering. 
Our only guest, outside the circle of relatives, was 
Mr. Mackenzie Bell, for whom my husband enter- 
tained a great regard. For myself, who had only 
been married a month, it seemed as if some 
magician's wand had touched me when I found 
myself presiding at this Dickensian dinner-table. 
When the table was arranged, looking so pretty 
with the Yule log in the middle, and little bundles 
of crackers scattered at intervals over the cloth, 



Swinburne slipped quietly down from his library, 
and having got the maid to show him where each 
member of the party was to sit, he placed an 
addressed envelope by the side of each cover. 
These contained the Christmas cards (duly 
inscribed) which he had been at such pains to select. 
In the performance of this ritual none of us was 
ever forgotten by the poet. 

A chorus of amusing sallies greeted the entrance 
of the turkey, " done and dished," as we recalled 
the golden glories of the " noble bird ' now 
guillotined and deprived of most of its splendours. 

More fun came at the end when, the repast 
being over, there was a general pulling of 
Christmas crackers. Swinburne now appeared to 
be thoroughly in his element. The fine cere- 
mbniousness with which he bowed across the table 
to his old friends, Miss Watts and Mrs. Mason, 
as he requested the honour of a "tug-of-war," 
was a "sight for sore eyes," and great was the 
amusement we all derived from hearing the Bard 
read the doggerel bits from the mottoes. He 
kept the table in a roar with his witticisms, and 
eagerly searched his end of the cracker in the hope 
that it might contain a specimen of cracker poetry. 
Eventually everybody's mottoes were handed to 
him to read. This was a divine moment for such 



an elocutionist. He carefully unrolled each little 
slip of paper, and in as stirring tones as he could 
command and the more stupid the lines the more 
pathos he contrived to put into his voice- 
he would " pray silence " for the recital of some 
absurd morsel. At the conclusion he would cast 
up the whites of his eyes to the ceiling, and after 
heaving a tremendous sigh, exclaim, "A sublime 
line ! a truly poetic line ! What would I not 
give to have written it! ' When it came to the 
turn of Walter's young niece, Miss Aimee Watts 
a charming girl hailing from Australia or 
myself, Swinburne's eyes sparkled witR mischief. 
He solicited us both in turn to be his cracker 
partners, and the motto in each case of course 
contained some rubbish about love. He 
endeavoured to make the ridiculous verses more 
ridiculous still, and loud were the laughs when he 
read with emphasis and affected emotion such 
amorous stuff as : 

You are so fair that Cupid's dart 

Can ne'er be pulled from my fond heart. 

The motto that resulted from his " pull " with 
me was more ambitious. Swinburne rendered the 
lines as fervently as though they had come straight 
from Sappho herself. Here they are : 



O valorous knight, whose eyes are as blue 

As the sky which is calm above tempests that grieve, 

My heart is my Christmas present to you, 

So take it and wear it but not on your sleeve. 

. . 

Ah! " he said with the most profound gravity, 
" that person, whoever he is, deserves to be Poet 

When the guests had departed, the poet had 
quite thrown over the part of Master of the Revels. 
He was now the serious Dickensian and read the 
selected passages from "A Christmas Carol." The 
peacefulness of the closing hours of the day was 
in strange contrast to the mirth of the dinner, and 
I cannot say that I was sorry when the evening 
came to an end and Swinburne took leave of us 
with a courteous bow and a cheery "Good-night." 




NEXT to love of his friends came Swinburne's 
love of the sea. And next to his love of the sea 
ranked his love of Babies. Admirers of the poet 
may express some surprise that I do not 
include his love of books. I purposely avoided 
that inclusion. Books were his very life. They 
were as essential to his existence as the food 
he ate. And just as most people would sicken 
and die without their daily bread, so would 
Swinburne have collapsed without his daily 

Swinburne's love of the sea was the natural 
emotion of one whose childhood's home was within 
hearing of its waves. Moreover, in Admiral 
Swinburne he honoured as sire one who had a 
distinguished career as a sailor-man. So that both 
heredity and environment united to invite and 



continued to strengthen his splendid affection for 
the sea, expressed in immortal words. 

The Bard's love of babies presents a problem 
which I have always found at once exciting and 
baffling. It may be that he felt in looking at 
babies that charm of a profound mystery suggested 
by the beauty of someone newly arrived on earth. 
However that may be, the admiration approaching 
idolatry for the speechless infant which Swinburne 
professed was not a pose : it was real. 

It must be confessed, however, that the poet 
knew nothing of that type of child whose 
conduct is summed up in the elastic description 
" naughty." Had he ever had the dubious 
privilege of nursing a fractious infant, he might 
have been tempted to compose a lyric after the 
manner of Thomas Hood, who voices the senti- 
ments of a parent towards a kicking sleepless brat 
of the male species in this way : 

Lullaby, oh, lullaby ! 
What the devil makes you cry? 

Throughout Swinburne's numerous poems 
about babies and children one hears nothing of a 
peevish infant, a spoilt child, a sulky boy or a 
greedy boy, although he got no end of fun out 
of, and expressed the greatest admiration for that 



delightful fictitious youth "the fat boy in Pick- 
wick." As to the little girl, 

Who wore a little curl 

Right in the middle of her forehead. 

When she was good 

She was very, very good, 

But when she was bad she was horrid, 

perhaps in real life at some unlucky moment he 
had encountered that young person, for he declares 
the angelic temper and sublime qualities of 
" Little Nell " as too good to be true, and incon- 
tinently dubs her " a monster as inhuman as a 
baby with two heads." But all his geese were 
swans, and he ecstatically speaks of babes, from 
birth upwards, as : " adorable, sweet, living, 
marvellous." In terms of extravagant adulation 
he praises with bated breath their " dimpling 
smiles," their " pink toes," their " rosebud 
hands," their "heavenly eyes," their "flower- 
soft fists," and so on ad nauseam, a cynic would 
say. Of a baby " Three weeks old," he sings : 

Three weeks since there was no such rose in being ; 

Now may eyes made dim with deep delight 
See how fair it is, laugh with love, and seeing 

Praise the chance that bids us bless the sight. 

Three weeks old, and a very rose of roses, 
Bright and sweet as love is sweet and bright, 

Heaven and earth, till a man's life wanes and closes, 
Show not life or love a lovelier sight. 


Three weeks past have renewed the rose-bright creature 

Day by day with life, and night by night. 
Love, though fain of its every faultless feature, 
Lends not words to match the silent sight. 

It is very lovely, and I for one simply adore all his 
poems in praise of babies. But if the poet had 
seen a baby screaming itself purple in the face, he 
wisely kept it dark. I very much doubt if he ever 
had witnessed such a spectacle, for people took 
care that he only saw their babies when on their 
best behaviour. 

I myself know a lady (Frances Forbes-Robert- 
son) who is proud of the fact that Swinburne 
nursed her in his arms the day she was christened. 
When she told Walter and myself of this interest- 
ing occurrence I was very curious to know how 
she had behaved on this momentous occasion. She 
was not able to enlighten me from first-hand 
evidence of course, but I remember how earnest 
she appeared to be in hoping that, " for the poet's 
sake," she had refrained from making an 
exhibition of herself. 

The little infant of the slums was simply an 
unknown quantity to the Bard, and the bare 
idea of a dirty baby was not to be entertained 
for a moment. He always thought one of the 
funniest things in the electioneering episode in 



" Pickwick ' was the idea of the " twenty 
washed men waiting at the street door to be shaken 
hands with " a most delightful touch. He had 
heard of and possibly seen many a specimen of the 
great unwashed, but an unwashed baby never ! 
Truth to tell, his experiences of child-life were 
confined to the region of " purple and fine linen," 
and he never went near Famine street for his 
types. To look even of a picture of a miserably- 
clad little child would, I think, have made him 
perfectly wretched, though he translated Hugo's 
poem about Les Enfants Pauvres whom God had 
sent with wings and retrouve avec des haillons I 
He loved to think of all babies as well fed and 
continuously happy and of course smiling. He 
loved to look at the portraits of fat chubby babies, 
and I remember how he gloated over an exquisite 
volume filled with portraits of children and babies 
entitled Les portraits de Venfant by Moreau 
Vanthier. I think his cousin, Mrs. Leith, 
brought it for him one day, and after she went, 
he called me in to look at it. How he raved over 
all the babies wonderful little Dukes and Prin- 
cesses of a bygone age, some dressed in costly lace 
robes, whilst others, half clothed, revealed arms 
and legs as fat as butter! His beau-ideal of a 
baby was that of Leopold de Medicis as an infant 



the original of which by Tiberio Titi hangs in the 
Pitti Palace, Florence. Swinburne's small repro- 
duction stood upon his mantelpiece, and he must 
have gazed at it continually. He pointed out this 
luscious little specimen to me the day the book 
arrived, and not even in his extensive vocabulary 
could he find adjectives sufficiently rich to express 
his admiration for this little Italian baby. As he 
bade me look at it, reclining in royal state on a 
very gorgeous cushion, the little limbs only 
partially covered by the most exquisite coverlet of 
embroidered gold and precious stones, his finger 
travelled lovingly over the fat baby arms and chest. 
' Oh, the little duck ! Did you ever see such 
darling dimples? Just look at those sweet little 
arms! Isn't he perfect?" exclaimed this child- 
worshipper, with a mouth almost watering as he 
got to the end of his superlatives ; and thinking of 
nothing more expressive to say, he had to resort 
to " lip-smacking " as a pis aller. I verily believe 
if Swinburne could have seen that baby in the flesh, 
he would have been tempted to eat him from sheer 
admiration of his perfections. 

Of course his friends were aware of his infatu- 
ation, and helped to foster the baby craze. Fond 
parents literally pelted the poet with photographs 
of their respective offspring. Not only did his 



relations send him the latest photo of " the 
latest," but the relations' relations sent them as 
well. Swinburne's collection of baby portraits was 
distinctly large, ranging as it did over a wide field. 
But he loved the lot. Catholic in taste, he wel- 
comed the arrival of a photo of a baby in long 
clothes with almost as much ardour as the parents 
themselves. But he never wrote of his later baby- 
loves at much length. His " first fine careless 
rapture " had been expended years before in the 
affection he lavished upon Walter's little nephew, 
Bertie Mason. Some of the sweetest lyrics in the 
world are written in his honour. The following 
is his portrait : 

Here is a rough 

Rude sketch of my friend, 
Faint coloured enough 

And unworthily penned. 

Fearlessly fair 

And triumphant he stands, 
And holds unaware 

Friends' hearts in his hands; 

Stalwart and straight 

As an oak that should bring 
Forth gallant and great 

Fresh roses in spring . . . 


Each action, each motion, 
Each feature, each limb, 

Demands a devotion 
In honour of him : 

Head that the hand 

Of a god might have blest, 

Laid lustrous and bland 
On the curve of its crest : 

Mouth sweeter than cherries, 

Keen eyes as of Mars, 
Browner than berries 

And brighter than stars. 

Nor colour nor wordy 
Weak song can declare 

The stature how sturdy, 
How stalwart his air. 

As a king in his bright 
Presence chamber may be, 

So seems he in height 

Twice higher than your knee. . . . 

And well though I know it, 

As fain would I write, 
Child, never a poet 

Could praise you aright. 

I bless you? the blessing 

Were less than a jest 
Too poor for expressing ; 

I come to be blest, 

M 177 


With humble and dutiful 

Heart, from above : 
Bless me, O my beautiful 

Innocent love ! 

This little hero fully reciprocated his poet 
friend's tender passion. But the sad fact remains 
that a few of his infantile acquaintances with whom 
he sought to ingratiate himself did not take to 
him. His magnetism did not work quickly with 
children, and failed with those of whom he saw 
but little. His hard and futile efforts with some 
children were enough to make the angels weep. 
I know on the best authority that his propitiatory 
antics sometimes met with a very cool reception, 
the mites being either too bored or too frightened 
to meet him halfway. With him, it was indeed 
a case of un qui aime Vautre qui se laisse aimer. 

Most of the Bard's pictures of infants were gifts ; 
but a few of them he had purchased. On the 
table at which I am writing stands a specimen of 
the latter. It is a miniature figure modelled in 
some composite material. It represents a new- 
born babe emerging from an egg-shell. The child 
is of the tint of terra-cotta and has a very ugly 
face. Presumably Swinburne saw some beauty in 
the image or was fascinated by the modelling of 
its limbs or by its mobility, for the figure 



is mounted on a wire and wobbles when touched. 
He was very proud of his purchase and set great 
store by it. Where he picked it up I do not know ; 
he had acquired the artistic treasure before I made 
his acquaintance. More than once he called my 
attention to the tiny work of art and expatiated, 
sometimes humorously, sometimes seriously on its 
" points." 

Perhaps the most convincing proof that I can 
adduce of the genuineness of Swinburne's child- 
worship is this : a flippant comment on a baby 
indulged in even by a writer so dear to him as Sir 
Walter Scott caused the Bard to " see red." 

In the " Journal of Sir Walter Scott " there 
occurs under April 10, 1828, this passage : 

The baby is that species of dough which is called a fine 
baby. I care not for children till they care a little for me. 

In his essay on the " Journal," Swinburne 
contrasts Scott's " tenderness for a dog with such 
irreverence towards an infant " and denounces it 
' as a disgraceful reflection on one of his grand- 
children." He dismisses the offence against His 
Majesty the Baby with the remark : "After all, 
Scott was neither a Homer nor a Victor Hugo." 
When one reflects that no eulogy uttered by 
Swinburne about Scott appeared to him excessive, 



one cannot doubt that he .was every inch a 
" babyolator " when he thus attacked the author 
of " Ivanhoe." 

Looking back now, I cannot understand why we 
never secured a house or cottage of our own by 
the sea at least for the summer months. The 
two friends had never done so during all the long 
period of their joint tenancy of The Pines, and it 
never occurred to me to acquire a pied-a-terre in 
any one selected spot. Had I done so, it might 
have saved weary tramps in different localities in 
search of a furnished house, or part of a house 
that the Poet might like. He so adored the sea 
that it is natural to wonder why he never acquired 
a sea-side abode at one of his favourite places, 
especially the Isle of Wight the beautiful Vectis 
of his dreams or on the coast of his beloved 
Northumberland. But Swinburne was not like 
other men, and even if he had inherited a property 
of his own he would not have known what to do 
with it. Walter was everlastingly on the look out 
for a suitable place where he could take the Bard 
for his summer holiday, and after my marriage I 
joined in the hunt and in explorations of 
inspection. No pilgrims in search of the Golden 
Fleece encountered more drawbacks than fell to 
our share in endeavouring to obtain the almost 



unobtainable. Walter from long experience knew 
to a nicety .what Swinburne would like, and he had 
given me such minute directions on the subject 
that I was considered qualified for the post of 
"investigator-in-chief." It was so difficult to get 
the right thing. 

The conditions demanded for the Poet's com- 
fort and well-being were manifold. Hardly 
anything seemed to be just right. I don't know 
whether it was the house or the place or the 
bathing that came first in importance, but Swin- 
burne's contentment with all three was absolutely 
essential. The place had to be secluded and quiet, 
what the Bard called an " esplanady ' place 
being anathema to us all. The house had to be 
within easy distance of the sea, and must contain 
no " lodgers " except the party from The Pines. 
Above all the Bard insisted on a sandy beach 
where deep-water bathing was possible at all 
tides ! Walter was often far too busy to look 
after the preliminaries himself, so I was told 
off to orienter (as he expressed it), with 
injunctions to report progress as soon as possible. 
When I thought I had hit upon an ideal spot 
complying with all the required conditions as nearly 
as possible, I would write off excitedly for him 
to come and inspect my find. He would arrive 



in a hopeful mood, fully prepared to praise my 
discovery and with no intention of finding flaws. 
But gradually his trained eye would discover some 
drawback that I had not thought of, and the weary 
search would be renewed. Perhaps the house itself 
was not just right for Swinburne. Perhaps the 
walks around the neighbourhood were too danger- 
ous for one who could not be relied upon to hear 
and get out of the way of an occasional motor car 
passing along the road ; or if other things were 
right, the bathing might be wrong, for it was of 
the utmost importance that Swinburne's bathing 
place would permit of his plunging into the water 
in puris natwalibus. He, of course, was quite 
ignorant of the elaborate plans made for his enter- 
tainment, and to do him justice I am sure if he 
had known of all the efforts made on his behalf, 
he would have been more than sorry to be the 
cause of so 1 much labour. He was not fussy, and was 
so simple in his tastes and requirements that an 
inexperienced person would have thought it quite 
an easy matter to select a place that he would like. 
I remember soon after my marriage going on a 
visit of inspection in the hope of finding the exact 
thing, and starting off joyously confident of 
success. We selected a small seaside village in 
Kent where, during a stay at Margate, I had 



espied a little house in an unfrequented by-way, 
which I considered would be most suitable. The 
country round about was very charming, and I 
hastened to inform Walter of the desirability of 
taking it as being eminently suitable for 
Swinburne's requirements. He came down to see 
what I had found and I shall never forget the way 
in which he entered into minute particulars about 
everything. Joy ! the house was all right. He 
carefully measured the distance from the house to 
the shore and pronounced that nearly all right, but 
alas for my rising hopes, when he came to inspect 
the beach and saw the sea retiring in the distance, 
he regretfully announced that the tides would be 
all wrong for Swinburne's bathing. On this part 
of the coast the sea would never come up high 
enough to enable the poet to plunge conveniently 
into deep water. And the idea of his walking 
through the sea till he reached a swimming depth 
was not to be considered for a moment. Hence 
my toil and hope on this occasion were wasted 
from this cause alone. 

Another thing which weighed very considerably 
was the romantic interest of any part of the coast- 
line overlooking a part of the sea covering sub- 
merged territory. Hence the fascination that 
Dunwich held for them both. In fact, any part 



of a coast formed after the sea had swallowed a 

piece of Old England had on the Bard the effect 
of a potent and awe-inspiring spell. For this 
reason the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk were 
preferred to almost any others. The shelving 
cliffs of Suffolk inspired Swinburne's magnificent 
poem " By the North Sea," and it was, at Cromer, 
years before, that part of "A Midsummer 
Holiday " was written. Curiously enough it was 
at this latter place that my first visit to the sea 
accompanied by the poet took place. 

For various reasons, chief among them the 
tremendous climb that a bathe would entail in 
oider to reach the sea owing to the great height 
of the cliffs at Overstrand, the Mill House, where 
the two friends had often stayed before, was 
no longer eligible, though Walter and I paid a 
visit there together to see if we could somehow 
make it serve. It grieved us to have to seek other 
lodgings, for the poet and Walter had been 
honoured guests, and Mr. Jermy, the miller, and 
his daughter now gave me hearty welcome also. 
They tried hard to persuade us, and with a note 
of regret in his voice, the old miller, now dead, 
enquired, " What is Mr. Swinburne busy with 
now? I was looking forward to hearing him read 
again." I could hardly believe my ears, for it 



sounded so odd coming from such a quarter. But 
it was nevertheless genuine, and Walter replied 
that the poet was very busy indeed preparing his 
poems for the press. "More proofs then? ' 
hazarded the miller. " Ah, yes, to be sure, more 
proofs," said Walter with genial alacrity. 

It seems that on the poet's previous visits he 
had been in the habit of reading proofs aloud to 
his host, and many a summer evening would these 
two spend together in the garden of the Mill 
House. Long yarns .would the worthy miller spin 
about Swinburne, telling how in the morning, or 
after lunch, the inevitable package having arrived 
for the poet, he would propose reading out some 
of the poems in the evening, " If Mr. Jermy would 
be kind enough to listen ! ' ' (how characteristic 
and delightful of the Bard!) " How I looked 
forward all day long to the evening, when, after 
my work in the fields or at the mill was over, I 
should sit down beside him and listen to him. I 
think he liked reading to me," proudly remarked 
the old man with a very wise shake of the head. 
Such a confession inwardly entertained me, for it 
fully confirmed my opinion that Swinburne so 
appreciated an audience that he positively felt lost 
without one. We all shook hands at parting, and 
as I felt the rough horny palm of this son of the 



soil between my fingers, I came away with the 
conviction that Swinburne could not have had a 
better listener. As we stood on the roadside 
whilst father and daughter waved their farewells 
from the old white gate, the miller's cheery voice 
rang out : * ' Give my best regards and kind 
remembrances to Mr. Swinburne." These I duly 
conveyed to the poet when he arrived at Cromer 
some few days later, and all sorts of messages and 
good wishes were returned that filled the heart of 
his old friend, the miller, with joy. 

Walter and I made tracks in a westerly direction 
and engaged rooms on the Runton Road some 
distance from the little town of Cromer where 
there was a fine stretch of sandy beach, and where 
the Bard could bathe in utter seclusion. Then he 
went home to fetch Swinburne and I stayed behind 
to await their arrival. How well I remember 
meeting them at the Railway Station a few days 
afterwards. Swinburne was very gay, and all 
excitement at again smelling the sea. As we 
drove to the house, I could not help noticing how 
really smart he looked. There was something 
different about him that I had never noticed before, 
but in the bustle of finding the luggage and getting 
clear of the station, I could not define just what 
it was. It was not the overcoat he carried over 



his arm, exceptional though this was. Then, as 
he sat opposite to me in the cab, it suddenly 
dawned upon me that his restless hands were 
encased in quite a smart pair of tan gloves how 
he must have hated them ! I was deeply interested 
in this astounding innovation, and as soon as 
Walter and I found ourselves alone after arriving 
at the lodgings, I asked the reason for such an 
unheard-of proceeding. His face assumed a wistful 
and tender little smile as he unfolded the story of 
the gloves. It seems that for this special occasion 
the poet had surreptitiously unearthed a pair of 
gloves, and put them in his pocket before leaving 
home. Much to Walter's astonishment, during 
the journey he produced them, asking to be 
reminded to put them on a little time before their 
arrival at their destination, remarking, " I should 
not like Clara to meet me at the station without 
any gloves on." 

So, he had put on these uncomfortable gloves 
solely for me ! How this sweet little admission 
touched me ! When Swinburne afterwards joined 
us at dinner I could only look at him with a 
renewed feeling of tender regard for such a 
graceful and na'ive act of courtesy. 

He was so unmindful of any sort of weather 
conditions that it was difficult for him to adapt 






himself to them. In fact he never could do so. 
He did not readily understand that it might be 
unwise to go swimming except under favourable 
conditions with regard to the elements. He was 
for taking a plunge the day after his arrival, no 
matter what the weather would be like, and for . 
the purpose of doing so he and Walter went down 
to explore the beach. 

The very sight of the sea seemed to fire this 
stormy petrel to instant action, and a yearning to 
strip and plunge headlong into the waves was not 
to be resisted. A boat had been engaged before 
his arrival, and about noon he gave orders to the 
boatman to row him some distance out to sea in 
order that he could dive from the stern into very 
deep water. Walter told me what a splendid dive 
he always gave, but although on this occasion he 
appeared to enjoy the exercise quite as much as 
usual, he got into the boat in a very cold and 
exhausted condition. The sea that he loved so 
well did not appear to have the same beneficial 
effect as of yore, and instead of invigorating, it 
seemed to weaken him. Swinburne put this 
down to the roughness of the sea, but he did admit 
that the water was rather cold. Not that this first 
attempt deterred him in the least, although it 
rendered his companion nervous and apprehensive. 



The next day found him as eager as ever to test 
his swimming prowess, with alas, no greater 
success than before. This second trial did not 
improve matters. He again emerged from the 
water white and exhausted, and almost blue with 
the cold. This condition of affairs became alarm- 
ing. Swinburne confessed to feeling extremely 
tired, and it distressed Walter to see him looking 
so unlike himself. Afterwards he was asked to 
forgo his swimming altogether at least for the 
time being. As it was obviously doing him harm 
Swinburne reluctantly consented, but not without 
many pangs and heartaches. It was an intense 
disappointment to them both. The Bard would 
roam about the beach, looking seaward with 
longing eyes. What were his thoughts, I often 
wondered. To have to deny himself the luxury 
of swimming in his beloved sea was very cruel. 
But he bore it bravely, and so enjoyed walking by 
the shore that the temptation to board the boat 
was soon cast aside. He would take long walks 
inland, too, sometimes alone, and often accom- 
panied by Walter and me. 

One day we made a sort of bet as to where we 
would find the greatest number of landslips in 
a southerly or northerly direction. Swinburne de- 
clared that he had noticed several huge gaps in the 



cliffs going north, and Walter thought the inroads 
of the sea had played more havoc with the land 
southwards. So we first of all went south to observe 
the effects of a recent landslip that had occurred 
the year before. Swinburne had no hesitation in 
agreeing with Walter when he saw a great yawning 
mountain of earth reaching far away into the sea, 
and he exclaimed that he had seldom seen a more 
wonderful and awe-inspiring sight. Both he and 
I ventured so near to the edge that Walter was 
in a constant fear that the earth would give way 
under us and we had repeated peremptory orders 
to " keep away from the edge for God's sake." 

Swinburne admitted that his friend knew far 
more about the effects of landslips than he or than 
most people, and all the way home and during 
dinner interesting talk took place about receding 
England and submerged towns. I sat at the head 
of the table listening to it all, and carving the roast 
duckling which more often than not seemed to 
be the meat set before me. We all loved it, and 
if it was a case of toujours canardeau it was because 
we preferred it to any other. 

One day I remember this delectable bird did not 
appear to be as young as it ought to have been, and 
I experienced some difficulty in carving it. Whilst 
witnessing my efforts, Walter began telling 



Swinburne a very amusing story about one of 
Rossetti's dinner-parties. The Bard loved to hear 
any sort of anecdote about the poet-painter, and 
I revelled in the stories they would unfold around 
"Topsy " (William Morris) and " Gabriel." I 
was commanded to listen while I wrestled with 
the anatomy of my recalcitrant bird. 

Rossetti, I was told, always persisted in doing 
the carving himself, though he was by no means 
a master-hand at the game. His method of 
carving was as follows : Savagely preparing 
himself for an onslaught, he would spear the joint 
or fowl with the carving fork, and go for it with 
the knife somewhat in the manner of a barbarian 
trying hurriedly to kill a foe. One night at Cheyne 
Walk there was a grander dinner party than 
usual, and a goodly number were sitting at the 
feast. For the occasion Rossetti had ordered two 
ducks to be placed on the dish at the same time. 
He began attacking a bird in his accustomed 
manner, jerking both ducks from side to side in 
the dish and incidentally splashing everybody 
within range with gravy. One of the birds being 
of grandmotherly toughness, his endeavours to 
dissect its limbs resulted in his depositing the 
whole of the other bird on the knees of George 
Augustus Sala, who was sitting sedately by the 



side of his host in full and blameless evening-dress. 
Gabriel paused in his work, and discovering where 
he had landed the other duck, he stared at his 
astonished guest, and quite unabashed by the 
mishap calmly drawled " I say, Sala, just hand 
me back that duck." 

Swinburne's fondness for making up nonsense 
rhymes never wholly left him, and his wonderful 
memory enabled him to recall some of the trifles 
that either he or Rossetti had scribbled in 
" honour " of their mutual friends. I know that 
Rossetti has been credited with the amusing 
limerick written around Dr. Franz Hueffer, the 
accomplished son-in-law of Ford Madox Brown, 
but I fancy the Bard had some hand in its compila- 
tion he was then seeing much of Rossetti, and 
the pair were in the habit of concocting this form 
of jingle together. Walter's story of Rossetti and 
the duck set the ball rolling about old times, and 
this limerick was spouted anew for my benefit. 
Both Swinburne and Rossetti were very friendly 
with Dr. Hueffer, who besides being a great 
scholar and man of scientific learning, was an 
accomplished musician to whom England is 
indebted for his championship of the music of 
Wagner. As an exponent of Schopenhauer, 
however, he was dogmatic and emphatic, and this 




cult not being to the taste of his jovial friends, 
they " served him up " the following doggerel, 
which, it may be added, very much amused 
Hueffer himself : 

There's a metaphysician called Hueffer 
A hypochondriacal buffer, 

To proclaim Schopenhauer, 

From the top of a tower, 
Is the ultimate mission of Hueffer. 

I have given it as I remember hearing it : there 
exists another version. 

As was their wont, my husband and Swinburne 
had brought bundles of MSS., reams of foolscap 
and books galore to beguile the time during their 
sojourn by the sea. Swinburne had brought the 
proofs of certain of his poems for the " Collected 
Edition," and the dedicatory epistle in prose which 
he had written for it. He suggested reading it to 
me another instance of his innate courtesy, for he 
knew how much it would please me. This long 
essay, filling twenty-nine pages of Vol. I of hij 
collected poems, stands out as a piece of masterly 
prose and reveals Swinburne at his best in scholar- 
ship. He introduced the opening sentence wil 
a reminder : " This is for Walter, you know," 
and proceeded to read, ever on the look-out foi 
some mistake in the text. If so much as a comi 
















o . 


.2 3 

A a 

** 2 
a jj 








was omitted or wrongfully introduced, down would 
go his pencil on the offending line, and nis vituper- 
ative comments were somewhat of a relief from 
the strain of following his magnificent prose. As 
he read on, I was awed by the burning intensity of 
his language. Two sentences in particular made 
me very uncomfortable as Swinburne stressed 
each insulting or bitter word, making me feel the 
sting of the old saying : " If the cap fits, wear it." 
His eyes seeoned to pierce me through and through 
as I listened : 

The half-brained creature to whom books are other 
than living things may see with the eyes of a bat and draw 
with the fingers of a mole his dullard's distinction between 
books and life : those who live the fuller life of a higher 
animal than he know that books are to poets as much part 
of that life as pictures are to painters or as music is to 
musicians, dead matter though they may be to the 
spiritually still-born children of dirt and dullness who find 
it possible and natural to live while dead in heart and brain. 

Marlowe and Shakespeare, ^Eschylus and Sappho, do 
not for us live only on the dusty shelves of libraries. 

The concluding sentence, which gave me visions 
of the unexplored dusty top shelves in the library 
at home, made me so unspeakably wretched that 
at the conclusion of the reading I went almost 
weeping to Walter to receive his assurance that 
Swinburne did not mean me. Well, however. 



was I rewarded for my suffering. When the 
volumes appeared the Bard gave me the whole set 
for a birthday present, and inscribed them to me, 
enriching the fly-leaf with the following lines : 

The waves are a joy to the seamew, the meads to the herd, 
And a joy to the heart is a goal that it may not reach. 

The book on the tapis at this time, I well 
remember, was "The Woman in White.'' The 
pitch of enthusiasm to which Swinburne worked 
himself whilst reading it to Walter was unforget- 
table. He became short of breath at the thrilling 
situations. The characters gripped his imagination 
to such an extent that for the time being he lived 
inside the parts created by the novelist. I had 
not been present at the beginning of the narrative, 
so I only heard it fragmentarily. The story was 
not being read for the first or even the second 
time. Its present innings had started at Putney, 
and Swinburne had taken care not to leave 
it behind. Just before sitting down to dinner one 
evening, the Bard having concluded a wonder- 
fully exciting chapter held up his glass of beer, 
and just as he might have been toasting an absent 
friend exclaimed, alluding to Fosco who drinks the 
health of Miss Halcombe, " And well might he 
drink her health! So do I." 




FORTUNATELY for his guests, before he came to live 
with Walter at The Pines, Swinburne rarely made 
any attempt at hospitality beneath his own 
bachelor roof in Great James Street. He was in 
the habit of lunching or dining with Walter, when 
they were neighbours in Great James Street, 
either at the Cock Tavern in Fleet Street or at 
the London Restaurant at the corner of Chancery 

The very idea of the Bard grappling with the in- 
tricacies of a cuisine, especially under the auspices 
of a " laundress " (that is, I fancy, the correct 
name for the female who " does," in more ways 
than one, for her lodgers) makes me laugh or 
weep. With the assistance of the egregious 
" Mrs. Crupp," David Copperfield did have the 
forethought to order a well-chosen menu from the 



pastrycook's on the occasion of his little dinner at 
his chambers in Buckingham Street. 

Would that Swinburne had done likewise when 
he invited Justin Huntly MacCarthy to lunch with 
him. A day or two before this festivity the Bard 
had met this extremely nice young man at 
a private view of the Blake Exhibition. Wish- 
ing to show him hospitality, Swinburne with 
great cordiality exclaimed, " Come to lunch," 
and forthwith appointed a day. Delighted and 
honoured by the invitation, the guest duly 
presented himself and was ushered into the sitting- 
room where Swinburne was waiting for him. On 
a table were a few plates, a tin of biscuits, a pot 
of jam, a bottle of hock and nothing else. The 
guest, thinking that the poet's " laundress " 
would shortly appear bearing at least a dish of cold 
meat to augment the repast, listened enraptured 
to his host's conversation and politely awaited 
his invitation to take his seat at the board. No 
hospitable female appeared, however, and after a 
short time, Swinburne, waving his hand towards 
the jam and the hock, airily said, " Shall we 
have luncheon now? ' and proceeded to place 
himself before the tin of biscuits and hand the 
pot of jam to his guest, inviting him to " help 
himself." He then placed the biscuits within 



his guest's reach and poured out two glasses of 

This weird luncheon proceeded until they had 
both satisfied themselves with the two solitary 
comestibles, and emptied the bottle of hock. 

Mrs. Disney Leith, in her recollections of her 
famous cousin, prints a letter from Swinburne to 
his mother. This letter is written from The Pines 
and contains this passage : " What stuff people 
talk about youth being the happiest time of life ! 
Thank God . . . I am very much more than twice 
as happy now as I was when half my present age." 

An assured and undisturbed happiness in his 
environment, his pursuits, his intercourse, was 
the dominant note of his life at Putney Hill. And 
there was no period of the day when that conscious 
joy in existence was more manifest than during 
meal times. For if the poet was a master of 
monologue, he was by no means incapable of the 
delightful small talk, the conversational give-and- 
take, the apt allusions, the appropriate quip. In 
this unstudied converse he " was quick at the 
up-take." Meal time was never a dull interlude 
in the day's duties and distractions. 

His manners at the table were of the old courtly 
school and were charming. He would never 
think of helping himself until he was quite sure 



that you had everything you wanted. The salt or 
the mustard he would pass to you with a little 
smiling bow and an air of genuine courtliness. 
He was punctilious over the small observances of 
the table. For instance, it would never occur to 
him, at the end of the repast, to throw his napkin 
down in an untidy heap for a servant to collect 
and adjust. It was the hero, so to speak,. of quite 
a little ceremony. The rolling-up of it seemed 
to afford him a real pleasure. He would fold the 
ends together and smooth out the creases with 
religious solicitude before slipping it back into its 
ring. And should the folding and rolling fail to 
come up to his idea of artistic perfection, he would 
undo the work of his hands and perform the 
ceremony all over again. When he was really 
sure that all the requirements of the case had been 
met, he would look up at us with a happy, boyish 
smile and a satisfied ejaculation of "Ah! " as if 
he had accomplished some difficult feat. 

Comment having been made on the remarkable 
thoroughness with which he conducted this perfor- 
mance, he explained that when he was a little boy 
in the nursery his mother had taught him to be 
particular in this matter, and that he still took a 
pride in following her instructions. 

Talking of napkin-rings reminds me of a little 



incident. My husband on one occasion gave the 
poet a celluloid ring, and he explained to me while 
purchasing it, "I will give this to Algernon for a 
lark he will think it is ivory." It cost, I think, 
a shilling or eighteen pence, and the inexperienced 
eye would suppose it was real ivory. I doubt if 
Swinburne had ever heard of celluloid. A little 
oblong picture of French design was let into the 
surface of the ring. This decoration had the effect 
of an exquisite miniature by some artist of the 
Watteau school, giving an air of expensiveness 
to what was merely pretty. 

When my husband gave his little present to 
Swinburne, the latter waxed quite eloquent, 
" Beautiful! " " Charming! " were among his 
fervent exclamations of delight and appreciation. 
When he was told what the napkin-ring had cost, 
he found it difficult to believe it. He shrugged 
his shoulders and ejaculated repeatedly " Tiens ! 
Tiens ! How can such things be ? ' 

When in the mood, he would notice and 
comment on any trifle on the table, and anything 
new or pretty immediately arrested his attention. 
For example he never tired of commenting on a 
little Queen Anne mustard-pot I had bought. 
When he had recourse to it, he would gaze on it 
with an expression of the utmost satisfaction. Its 



quaint shape and fluted pattern appealed to 
his artistic sense. " I like this little thing, it is so 
pretty," he would say as a sort of apology for 
lingering over its qualities instead of taking his 
mustard and getting on with his meal. There was 
one table decoration which he could not stand. 
He hated to see cut flowers used for ornamentation 
or indeed for any other purpose. He had an idea 
that it Hurt the poor things to cut them. He 
described them as innocents who had undergone 
execution, beautiful heads that had been guillo- 
tined, severed from their fair fragile bodies and 
consigned to the sawdusty basket of M. Sanson. 
To him flowers presented a tragic spectacle 
unless they were " all a-blowing and a-growing." 
Apropos this peculiar and rather pathetic trait, 
another incident comes back to me. One spring- 
time I had been into the country and I came upon 
a wood wherein blue-bells were spread like a 
carpet. Had I been a poet, the scene would 
doubtless have conjured up to my mind's eye many 
exquisite ideas. But I could only think of one, 
of unseen fairies dancing between the lovely bells, 
their tread leaving every flower undisturbed. I 
felt like a female Gulliver in a lovelier Lilliput. 
From sheer jaie de vivre I took off my shoes, 
meaning to join in the revels of the fairy host. 



Then something stopped me. I shrank from the 
idea of trampling like a giant among such exquisite 
and fragile things. I put on my shoes again. On 
my return I told Swinburne of my experience, 
describing the beauty of the scene, the suddenness 
of the temptation, the equally sudden revulsion 
of feeling, and I saw that the poet was really 
moved by my idea. 

"It was better not; you might have hurt 
them," he said. 

I do not wish it to be inferred that our table-talk 
was solely concerned with " trifles light as air." 
Some chance allusion to French affairs would, 
perhaps, bring up the name of Napoleon III, the 
Napoleon le Petit of Victor Hugo. This roused 
the poet to alternate rage and rapture, for he 
regarded the Emperor as one of the most odious 
and contemptible of throned criminals, while he 
worshipped Hugo as the greatest of the literary 
immortals. To describe his outbursts on these 
topics as picturesque, passionate, and perfervid is 
to do them very much less than justice. The 
atmosphere of the room became electrical, and 
sparks seemed to crackle in all directions. 

When Hugo was the theme, there was no con- 



versation : Swinburne declaimed and we listened. 
I remember, however, a notable exception to this 
rule. One day at table he was unusually quiet. 
He was looking dull and despondent. I asked 
my husband if Algernon would like to hear me 
recite a poem I had learned at school. Upon 
being assured that the poet would be delighted to 
listen to me, I went over to him and knelt on the 
floor by his side. I told him that I knew a little 
poem by Victor Hugo. At the mere mention of 
" The Master " his unhappy mood passed, like a 
mist dispelled by the effulgence of the sun. His 
face became radiant, his attitude that of eager 
attention. The poem was addressed to a jeune 
file. The composition was tame, and convenable 
to the last degree. But in the eyes of his English 
singing brother, Victor Hugo was sacrosanct. He 
fairly beamed on me as I proceeded, and when I 
had finished he thanked me in his polite way 
and assured me that I had afforded him great 
pleasure. His melancholy mood had entirely dis- 
appeared, and he began to talk of the days when 
he " was a kid at Eton." 

There was naturally much literary talk at our 
table. Walter was anxious that I should be 
qualified to take part in it when the topics were 
within my intellectual range. There came an 


occasion when he suggested to me that I might 
find Border Minstrelsy an interesting field of 
study. It was a topic frequently trotted out 
by the housemates at The Pines. I bought a 
copy of " Border Ballads " and soon discovered 
as much fascination in " Clerk Saunders " and 
" The Wife of Usher's Well " as any literary 
husband could hope for or desire. 

There are two stanzas in " Clerk Saunders ' 
which Walter and the Bard delighted to recite 
alternately. My husband would begin : 

Is there ony room at your head, Saunders? 

Is there ony room at your feet? 
Is there ony room at your side, Saunders? 

Where fain, fain, I wad sleep? 

Well I can recall the pleasure Swinburne 
derived in replying : 

There's nae room at my head, Marg'ret, 

There's nae room at my feet; 
My bed it is full lowly now, 

Amang the hungry worms I sleep. 

It was weird, but beautiful in a way, and I felt as 
greatly moved in listening as Swinburne obviously 
was in reciting. 

On the subject of Swinburne and the Border 
Ballads I received from Lady Archibald Campbell 
a very interesting letter which I Have great 
pleasure in reproducing here : 



Coombe Hill Farm, 


September 27th, 1919. 

As you tell me you are writing a monograph of 
Swinburne (and no one is more fitted to do it than yourself), 
it has struck me some little incidents might interest you 
which occurred in the early days of our friendship with him 
and your husband, when they came together to see us. Of 
course you know that our friendship with your wonderful 
" Bird " * began when he was seeing much of Rossetti. 
But of course we knew him before he had met either the 
poet-painter or Swinburne. 

It was a friend of the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland 
who brought him to see us. She had often told me what a 
wonderful man he was. She had made his acquaintance at 
Rossetti 's. Afterwards when he and Swinburne became 
friends I remember one of my first ventures to please him 
was half-reciting half-singing some of the old Border 
Ballads. He listened with rapt attention, and with that 
fascinating politeness of his remarked, " Walter had not 
told me you had the art of expressing the life of the 
matchless Scottish Ballads ! I in a small way have attempted 
that form of Ballad myself." I remember his pleasure over 
" The Twa Corbies" how he bent his ear near to the piano 
the better to hear every word ; and how " Lord Randal ' ; 
delighted him especially about the poisonous eels when 
his Mother asks him : 

" Where gat ye your dinner, Lord Randal, my son? 

Where gat ye your dinner, my handsome young man?" 
" I gat eels boil'd in broo ; mother, make my bed soon, 

For I'm weary wi' hunting, and fain wald lie doon." 
Lord Randal's reply saying he dined off " eels boiled in 
broo " presumably poisoned by his " true love " 
delighted him, and how he laughed ! 

* One of the three pet names for Walter, 


Here is the couplet : 

" O I fear ye are poison 'd, Lord Randal, my son ! 

O I fear ye are poison 'd, my handsome young man!" 
" O yes ! I am poison 'd ; mother, make my bed soon, 

For I'm sick at the heart, and I fain wald lie doon." 

Their adorable simplicity in everyday life riveted me, 
and many other countless memories they call up, which 
make my heart too full to speak of otherwise than as radiant 
beacons in my life, which threatened at one time to become 
for me a slough of Philistine darkness, oppression and 
repression certainly a curious combination ! 

Of course you are coming on Monday, so until then, 
Au revoir. 

Affectionately yours, 


On the wall at the left-hand side of the dining- 
room door at The Pines there hung and still 
hangs a water-colour painting by Miss Elizabeth 
E. Siddal, who became the wife of Dante Gabriel 
Rossetti. It is dated 1856. It represents an 
episode described in the border ballad of " Sir 
Patrick Spens." Sometimes when Swinburne 
left the table after lunch, he would stop for 
a moment to look at this little drawing. It linked 
him with the past. It has often occurred to me 
that his first ballads in the archaic style of the 
Border Minstrelsy were written shortly after Miss 
Siddal finished her picture. He was, as is well 
known, an enthusiastic friend of Rossetti. 




VISITORS at The Pines were usually impressed by 
Swinburne's affability and courtesy, but in the 
majority of cases they made very little impression 
on him. One notable exception is worth a small 

The welcome visitor was Marion Crawford, 
the novelist, whose writings Swinburne much 
esteemed. The visit came about in this way. 
Walter had written to Mr. Crawford telling him 
how A. C. S. and he had been enthralled while 
reading "A Cigarette Maker's Romance." The 
letter ended like this, " When you are in England, 
we should much like to meet you." Crawford was 
evidently pleased, and when he next came to this 
country, one of his first visits was to The Pines. 

I can still recall vividly the occasion on which 
he came to us. It was a splendid day in mid- June, 


about four o'clock, and he was shown into the 
dining-room which overlooks the garden, at that 
time a glowing perspective of flower and foliage. 
When I entered the room, our guest's back was 
turned towards me. He was standing at the window 
admiring the scene. He turned quickly as he heard 
me enter. My first impression was that he looked 
very much of a man. He stood well over six feet, 
and his figure was in the nicest proportion to his 
height. He was bronzed, and his hands were 
beautifully shaped. What struck me most about 
him was the very bright blue of his eyes. So 
bright was the blue that I found it hard to believt 
what I heard subsequently from one who knei 
him well, that the blue never was so brilliant 
as when he was on his beloved sea sailing his yacht 
"Aeda." This was his ruling passion. He w* 
more proud of having himself sailed the "Aeda ' 
from New York to Sorrento than he was of the 
success of his most popular work. As I looked at 
him, the thought flashed through my mind that 
Marion Crawford looked more like the hero of a 
novel than the writer of one. 

Our greeting was cordial. I at once felt myself 
at ease with him. Having exchanged polite 
commonplaces, Mr. Crawford expressed his 
admiration for the garden on which he had 


just been gazing. " Why/' he said with his 
bewitching smile, " you seem to be in the very 
heart of the country here, and yet in the front of 
your house you are in the midst of traffic and the 
hoots of the motor horns." We talked together 
for some time before my husband appeared. The 
pleasure of both men on becoming acquainted was 
too genuine for any disguise, but Walter had in 
the drawing-room a business man whom he was 
bound to rejoin, so it fell to my lot to pilot the 
visitor to Swinburne's sanctum. 

The poet had been told of Marion Crawford's 
arrival, and never was introduction more easily 
effected. I cannot recall how the introduction 
was phrased, and I am inclined to think that there 
was no formality, but that the men just met and 
shook hands after the manner of old friends who 
had not seen each other for a long time. Of course 
they had many tastes in common. Both loved 
Italy. Both loved the sea, and each of them had 
a sincere admiration for the literary output of the 
other. It was a delightful conversation, especially 
as Swinburne had not the slightest difficulty in 
hearing what Crawford said. A pleasant change, 
this, from the boredom he so often experienced 
when a visitor's voice failed to " carry." On this 
occasion, both visitor and host seemed to generate 



an atmosphere of harmony and repose. So 
" enthused " did Swinburne become, that while 
discussing Italy, he dropped into the language oi 
that delightful land. But as his acquaintance witl 
the language was that of a reader and not a speaker, 
he soon dropped out of it again, notwithstanding 
Crawford's tactful compliment on his fluency. Th< 
deviation into Italian happened when the two mei 
were discussing the " Orlando Furioso " of Ariostc 
which Swinburne had taken down from his shelves. 
I confess that a good deal of this part of the talk 
was a little beyond me ; but I shall always recal 
with gratitude the gallant efforts of our visitor t( 
keep me participating easily in it. When con- 
versation veered round to the sea Mr. Crawford's 
kind wish for me to join in it was less difficult 
comply with, for I, also, loved the sea. 

Crawford at last expressed an eager desire 
hear Swinburne read one of his own works. And, 
nothing loth, the Bard read aloud the completec 
part of " The Duke of Gandia." The novelis 
appeared greatly impressed. Our visitor stayec 
with us the whole afternoon, for it was close 01 
dinner-time when he rose to leave. When 
visit was at an end, and the two men bade good- 
bye to each other with many hopes expressed for 
another meeting, I left the poet's library with 



Mr. Crawford. As the door of the sanctum closed, 
he said to me, ' ' I shall never forget this day . ' ' He 
turned and looked at the shut door and said, " It 
has been wonderful ! wonderful ! ' In silence he 
came down; and as he said " Good-bye," neither 
of us imagined the good-bye was said for the last 
time. By a coincidence these two great men of 
letters died within twenty-four hours of each other, 
Crawford on the 9th of April, 1909, Swinburne 
on the 10th. I have two letters which bring back 
very vividly that day in June. The first is from 
Swinburne to Marion Crawford. The two men, 
so greatly attracted one to the other, naturally 
engaged in correspondence. The receipt of a 
letter from the novelist was always regarded by the 
poet as a specially interesting event, and it made 
him happy for the whole day. Here is the letter 
of A. C. S. : 

The Pines, 

September 4th, 1907. 

Many thanks for Richepin's book. I am quite inclined 
to believe in the fidelity and accuracy of his Borgian Study. 
The authorities I never believe in are such " Tedeschi " as 
" Gregorovius the unreadable " I would as soon put my 
faith in " Mommsen " or " Freeman." 

What a singularly original and touching story is the 
Histoire de Vautre monde! But, indeed, as much might 
be said for the other two. I need not say how gratified I 



am by your recollection of my unfinished play. I am about 
to publish what is written of it as " The Tragedy of the 
Duke of Gandia." 

With all good greetings from Watts-Dunton. 

Very truly yours, 


Mrs. Watts-Dunton is especially delighted with the 
admirable portraits you sent her, and is writing to you to 
say so. 

It is, perhaps, unnecessary to explain the 
allusions in the above letter. " Tedeschi ' is 
simply the Italian for Germans. Swinburne who 
had no love for the Germans as a people, hated both 
Gregorovius and Mommsen with a perfect hatred. 
What his grudge against poor Freeman may have 
been I do not know, but him also he regarded with 
great dislike. The book by Jean Richepin that 
occasioned the communication is doubtless Lei 
Debuts de Cesar Borgia, the second chapter of 
which is entitled Le Cadavre du due de Gandie. 
The other letter is one written by Marioi 
Crawford to me from Italy a few months after his 
visit to us : 

S. Agnello di Sorrento (Napoli) 
Torre San Nicola, 
San Nicola Arcella, 

Provincia di Cosenza, 

Sept. 12th, 1907. 

Many thanks for your kind and welcome letter, and 



for the Book Monthly, when it comes. It ought to come 
dawdling along a couple of days after the letter itself, but 
this is an out-of-the-way place. I wish you could see it. 
Walls eighteen feet thick, sea, rocks, more sea and more 
rocks, and no habitation visible except a haunted house 
below, near the beach, and the big half-ruined building on 
the hill where my farmer lives. 

I cannot tell you how much I value your husband's 
high opinion of " The Cigarette Maker," nor how grateful 
I am for his open praise of it. I wish I had written twenty 
better, but there is hardly one I think so good. Mr. 
Swinburne told me he liked the " Roman Singer " it must 
be our Italy that appealed to him, for he loves it as well 
as I do, and has written undying words about it, which I 
never shall. 

May I ask you a question " on the sly," as you put it? 
Or even two ? The first is this. In a very unscholarly way, 
I am very fond of the Greek poets, and I potter amongst 
the gardens of the Anthology on my own account. I found 
lately a very beautiful Epitaph of four lines, by an unknown 
author, " On a friend." Do you think that by any diplo- 
macy it would be possible to bring it to Mr. Swinburne's 
notice, in the bare hope that he might do it into his 
matchless English, for all men and for all time? If you 
think so, I will copy the lines and send them to you. No 
one, living or dead, ever turned Greek into English as he 
does here and there through his poems. I do not believe 
he even knows that scholars have picked out gems here and 
there and have printed them as his, in their notes. 

The other question is, can Mr. Watts-Dunton let me 
have the sheets of " The Tragedy of the Duke of Gandia " 
a little early, in order that I may write a review of it in one 
of the big English Reviews? I think I might do it not 



as it deserves but as well as a professional reviewer, and it 
would be a labour of love. 

Forgive this long letter, I am glad you like the photo- 
graph yes, Mr. Swinburne wrote that you had received it 
and were pleased. 

I leave here on the 15th for my real home, and shall 
be there off and on all the winter. 

With warm greetings to your husband, and sincerest 
thanks to Mr. Swinburne for his interesting letter about the 
" Tedeschi " and " Gregorovius the unreadable." 

Most sincerely yours, 





ABOUT anything of a mechanical nature Swinburne 
had the most primitive ideas. He could poke a 
fire after a fashion ; and, as we have seen, he 
could light his candles after another fashion. But 
he regarded all machinery as belonging to a world 
outside his ken. This inability to understand 
enhanced the awe and admiration with which he 
regarded the simple contrivances intended to add 
to the ease of everyday life. His intelligence was 
so confined to poetry and imaginative literature 
that even the mechanism of a soda-water syphon 
was beyond him. When for the first time I man- 
ipulated one in his presence, he gazed fixedly at 
me, evincing considerable apprehension for my 
safety. I succeeded in releasing a gentle stream 
into my glass. When I stopped, he said with an 
accent of admiration and surprise, " How cleverly 



you did that; I couldn't have done it." I could 
disclaim the compliment, but I could not truthfully 
contradict the second part of his comment. I have 
seen him approach a refractory window-sash with 
the reluctance of one about to grasp a bunch of 
nettles, but if the sash remained obstinate under 
his treatment he would hurl at it a dazzling 
selection of epithets in at least three different 
languages. It was a liberal education in swear- 
words to hear him. I tried to catch the phrases 
as they dropped in quick succession from his lips ; 
but knowing only English and French, most of his 
angry eloquence was lost to me. Some of it was 
no doubt imprecation in the purest Attic Greek. 

Foremost among the mechanical arts of which 
he approved was photography. He spoke enthusi- 
astically of its results and pronounced them 
' ' tremendously clever. ' ' He raved eulogistically 
over some snapshots of children done by a cousin 
of his. The meaning of the phrase, " You touch 
the button, we do the rest," would have floored 
him utterly, for he regarded the little pictures 
almost as works of art. 

Although I have seen Walter scores of times 
with a pad before him writing his own letters, he 
more often than not dictated them. He was never 
slow to employ any mechanical device which he 



thought would make life easier. In his enthusiasm 
for science he was eager for experiments. Not 
so the Bard in this he was Walter's exact 
opposite. He never enquired the why and the 
wherefore of such things, or whence and by 
whom came any invention. I believe Swinburne 
resented even a business letter that was 
type- written, whereas Walter welcomed the 
machine-made epistle as affording him relief from 
deciphering the sometimes awful writing of his 
correspondents. Under the impression that such 
a method as typewriting would, with practice, 
enable him at least to write his own letters, he was 
eager to purchase one of the numerous machines 
on the market. We wrote to several companies 
and for weeks we were deluged with correspon- 
dence, descriptive catalogues and machines. I 
had learnt to type on a hired machine in anticipa- 
tion of the day when we should acquire one of 
our own, and in order that I should be able in 
turn to teach Walter. 

Never shall I forget the arrival of those 
type-writers ! Their escorts from the different 
companies would leave them at The Pines for a 
week or more on trial. At one time we had 
four of them simultaneously in the, house. Poor 
Walter was worried to death between the lot of 



them, not knowing which to choose, and with 
each agent praising his own wares. The man 
from " Remington's" and the " Smith Premier" 
man would meet in the hall and glare fiercely at 
each other one day, whilst on another, the 
" Hammond ' agent would barge into the 
' ' Blick " or the ' * Yost ' ' clerk as he entered or 
departed with his own particular machine. Even- 
tually one was selected, and Walter began his 
lessons in peace and comfort. 

What fun we had in the evenings ! He proved 
quite an apt pupil, and when he didn't forget to 
" shift the key " or strike the lever that produces 
the spacing, or make some other minor fault, his 
progress was satisfactory, if slow. I was begin- 
ning to feel quite proud of my pupil, and one day 
when we went to Onslow Square to visit 
Algernon's sister Isabel, I carried a specimen of 
Walter's best and latest effort with me. She 
thought it wonderful ; and turning to me with an 
eager smile on her charming face, she exclaimed 
excitedly, " Oh, Clara, if you would but teach dear 
Algernon how to type, how delightful that would 
be ! ' The incongruity of such an idea had the 
effect of 'making Walter and me almost double up 
with laughter. But Isabel, thinking, no doubt, that 
this contrivance had come as a boon and a blessing 



to relieve her brother from the tiresome effort of 
wielding a pen, was oblivious of the fact that 
Algernon would not and could not be taught. 

In his ineptitude with regard to mechanics 
Swinburne was untrue to the doctrine of heredity. 
His immediate forbears found a great attraction 
in them. On this point I may quote an obser- 
vation made by my husband. 

In dealing with the poet's little book on Dickens 
he says, "It is interesting to remark that Swin- 
burne's father, Admiral Swinburne, was in his 
own way almost as remarkable as his grandfather. 
His ability showed itself in a direction in which the 
poet was strangely deficient mechanics. He spent 
much of his time in his carpenter's workshop. He 
invented more than one mechanical device for 
which he ought to have taken out a patent. I 
myself possess one of these devices given me by 
Lady Mary Gordon. It has always been a special 
wonder to visitors to The Pines." 

Far from being astonished at A. C. S.'s lack 
of mechanical knowledge, I am disposed to 
wonder how a man who added so many 
treasures to English literature managed to get 
through so much general reading as he did. 
Barring scientific works, he could read pretty 
nearly anything, from poetry, history and 



philosophy down to " Yellowbacks " and lime- 
ricks. And he usually found something to admire 
in them all and often something to-^boSSE^ 
He was, I remember, extremely fond of TJiackeray. 
' ' The Newcomes ' ' was one of his favourite novelST" 
and Ethel Newcbme was his favourite heroine in 
fiction. Ethel, I have always thought, must have 
appealed to him as resembling some member of his 
own family, perhaps one of his sisters. 

He never wearied of discussing his favourite 
novels, and dwelt with pathetic insistence on the 
peculiarities of the various characters. He was 
as zealous as an evangelist in his endeavour to 
secure converts to his literary beliefs. He tried 
to convert me some ; tim"es with success. He 
introduced me to Jane Austen's " Emma " the 
characters in that book being to him living and 
faithful friends. 

When I had finished reading " Emma " he put 
me through quite an examination on the book. 
His every question began with " Do you 
remember? " or, "I know you have forgotten." 
He was delighted that I had noticed how fussy 
Mr. Wodehouse became about the way in which 
his gruel was prepared, and asked me if I would 
have taken the same, pains as Emma in order to 
meet her father's taste in it. He had a fervent 



and almost affectionate appreciation for the work 
of Jane Austen, and was fond of picturing the 
England she knew through her eyes. Often I 
heard him exclaim when referring to " Emma " : 
" What a queer little England it must have been 
then, to be sure ! ' 

Swinburne knew no German, nor do I rememberX 
having seen a German book on his shelves. He * 
disliked the Teuton, and entertained no exalted 
opinion of his literature. His passionate love of 
France and of everything French was attributable, 
I imagine, to the fact that Victor Hugo was 

With Hugo he had a very voluminous corres- 
pondence, and he kept a large number of his 
letters. These I was asked to translate into 
English. The task was not an easy one, owing 
to the characteristically literary handwriting of the 

When talking about Hugo, the Bard would often 
lapse into French, and although he had never 
stayed long in France, he spoke it with a true 
Parisian accent, and with the ease of one talking 
in his mother tongue. His achievements in French 
prose and poetry are convincing proofs of his 
mastery of that language. 

Believing that biography should not avoid the 



amusing simply because the smiles evoked are at 
its subject's expense, I give the following story, for 
which I am indebted to Mrs. Alys Eyre Macklin 
who had it direct from her friend Tola Dorian. 
When Swinburne and my husband visited Paris in 
November, 1882, to witness the performance of 
Hugo's Le Roi s'amuse, it was arranged that they 
should meet the great Frenchman at a dinner at 
his house. Tola Dorian was an almost daily 
visitor there, and being Swinburne's translator 
and friend, she was asked to be hostess on the 
great occasion. This is how she described the 
meeting : 

" It was a cold, dreary day, and poor Hugo was 
feeling very irritable and nervous, full of aches 
and pains, more than usually deaf, and in one of 
his worst moods. It was pitiful to see how he 
struggled with his .weakness ; he was like a lion in 
a net. I told them not to bring the visitors 
straight in to him, feeling I had better see them 
first to explain that their host was not in a normal 
frame of mind, but when Swinburne arrived alone, 
I saw that he also was in a highly nervous condition. 

" ' Watts was not able to come,' he burst out 
excitedly. ' He has toothache. The poor fellow 
is suffering agonies. I ought never to have left 
him. I must get back as soon as possible.' 




" Now, Swinburne also was deaf, and I shall 
never forget the scene that followed. Trembling 
with agitation, he went off into what sounded like 
a carefully prepared speech full of Eastern hyper- 
bole : Victor Hugo was the great sun round which 
the little stars, etc., etc., etc. Hugo sat with his 
head bent forward, his hand to his ear, and his 
efforts to catch the words gave his face a 
threatening expression, and his terse ' What does 
he say? What does he say?' sounded lite a growl. 
This did nothing to tranquillise Swinburne, who 
grew more and more nervous as he began at the 
beginning again. 

" The result was the same, and I had to come 
to the rescue as interpreter. 

" Had it not been so pathetic, it would all have 
been intensely funny. All through the meal I had 
to continue to act as interpreter, and at intervals 
Swinburne kept on saying to me in an undertone, 
' I ought never to have left him. AH alone in 
the hotel and the poor fellow was suffering 
agonies!' The climax came when, at dessert, 
Victor Hugo drank the health of his guest, and 
Swinburne, raising his glass to toast the ' great 
master,' in homage, threw the empty glass over 
his shoulder. 

" Victor Hugo did not grasp the full meaning 

p 225 


of the action, and he only stared at the shattered 
fragments. A kind of childish avarice had 
developed in him with advancing years, and this 
got the upper hand of him as he muttered : '"And 
one of the best glasses too! One of the best 
glasses ! ' And that was his refrain long after the 
poet had left." 

A funny story may be too good to lose, but I 
should not like the readers of this one to regard it 
as any sort of anti-climax to the sincere and glow- 
ing praise which Hugo bestowed on " le premier 
poete anglais actuel >; who touched the " deux 
times " of lyric verse and tragic drama. 

In order to complete his book " The Age of 
Shakespeare," Swinburne wished to see a copy of 
two plays by William Rowley "All's Lost by 
Lust" and "A New Wonder: a Woman Never 
Vext." So one day the Bard, Walter and I 
started off for the British Museum. The way was 
made smooth for us by a letter written before- 
hand to the late Mr. Fortescue. 

When we arrived at the famous library, we were 
met by Mr. Fortescue and conducted through a 
private door into a very secluded little library. 
Sitting working at a table in this apartment was a 



tall, white-bearded and strikingly handsome man 
,who flashed a keen glance at Swinburne when we 

When the official brought Swinburne his 
precious Rowley, he directed the poet to a seat 
near that of the venerable student whom I have 
described. Once absorbed in his Rowley, Swin- 
burne had eyes for naught else, so my husband and 
I left him to his labours and went for a stroll 
through the galleries of the Museum. When we 
were fairly out of earshot Walter confided to me 
that Swinburne's good-looking old vis-a-vis was 
Dr. Furnivall, the eminent Shakespearean scholar, 
with whom, years before, Swinburne had carried 
on an epistolary duel in the press. The epithets 
which the antagonists hurled at each other during 
their quarrel were both ingenious and indecorous, 
to say the least of it. When we returned to 
Swinburne we found that he had completed his 
study of Rowley ; but he was evidently still 
in complete ignorance of the identity of the gentle- 
man with whom he had been sharing the room. 
After we left the private library and were in a quiet 
corner, Walter said to Swinburne, " I say, do you 
know who it was you had sitting next you ?" " No. 
Who was it? " asked the other. "Your friend, 
Furnivafl," was my husband's illuminating 



reply. " Tiens! Was that the dog?" exclaimed 
Swinburne, without a trace of ill-humour. 

During our Museum visit Mr. Fortescue took us 
into the King's Library and led us to a glass-case 
in which was enshrined the extremely rare first 
edition of " Hamlet." He unlocked the case, took 
out the precious volume, and, with great solemnity, 
placed it in Swinburne's hands. I shall never 
forget the look of rapturous awe on the poet's face 
as he turned the pages of the priceless book. He 
spoke no word. His wonder and reverence were 
too deep even for the customary "Ah-h-h! " He 
simply gazed silent and transfixed. Then with a 
look of thanks in which I could see a trace of 
emotion, and with the inevitable bow he handed 
back the treasure to Mr. Fortescue. That gentle- 
man did not immediately return the book to its 
place. With polite indulgence he handed it to 
me in order that I too might inspect it, and 
that I might be able to say I had read some of 
Shakespeare's " Hamlet " in a first edition. 

To Swinburne and Walter it had been a most 
satisfactory day. To me it was a very memorable 

During our walk from the Museum to the 
Holborn Restaurant where we were to lunch, 
A. C. S. talked with eloquence and with some 



excitement of the Elizabethans. It seemed queer 
to have for cur objective instead of a Mermaid 
Tavern (or even a Rose and Crown !) an ultra- 
modern place like the Holborn. I made a remark 
to this effect as we took our places at a little side- 
table. But by this time the poet had come back 
to earth and was gazing all round him at the 
marble walls and the gold-latticed ceiling. 

Walter told him that the fine marble pillars had 
come from Baron Grant's architectural " folly ' 
at Kensington. It was quite characteristic of 
Swinburne that his comment on this should take 
the form of a question : "And who, may I ask, 
is Baron Grant? ' The band had more interest 
for him than the Baron, and although he could 
not hear the music of the fiddlers, he seemed 
absorbingly interested in the antics of the con- 
ductor, who, violin in hand, was swaying his body 
about in the most wonderful rhythmic gyrations 
to the strains of " The Blue Danube." 

As I watched Swinburne, I could not help 
speculating as to what his thoughts must be. He 
had chambers for a long time in the neighbourhood 
of the Holborn. In those far-off days so Walter 
had told me a dancing saloon stood on part of the 
site now occupied by the restaurant. Had the 
Bard, I wondered, ever gone into the old Holborn 



Casino on the site of which he now sat sober and 
sedate, enjoying his luncheon and drinking the 
pint of claret that on this occasion replaced the 
usual beer. I was doomed to continue wondering, 
for allusions to the old uses of the floor failed to 
draw him. His expression became like that of 
the Heathen Chinee, " child-like and bland." To 
him the past was past indeed. The hectic roysterer 
of the sixties was gone : the grave and affable 
patrician of the twentieth century had taken his 

After luncheon that ghastly contrivance known 
as a " four-wheeler ' ' with the usual Rosinante 
between its shafts, \vas hailed for us, and we drove 
back to Putney. 

In the cab Swinburne kept up an animated con- 
versation about objects which he noticed en route. 
He was like a schoolboy out for a half -holiday. 

At Piccadilly Circus we were " held up " for a 
bit. He put his head out of the window. "Ah! 
That's Swan and Edgar's. I had to go there with 
my mother when I was a little chap. She quite 
liked the place. I hated it. Fortnum and Mason's 
further down was more my sort of shop. It is 
associated in my mind with all sorts of good things 
to eat delicious preserved fruit, pate de foie gras, 
and everything else that is nice." 



During the journey home the friends discussed, 
not poetry, but the great question regarding the 
manufacture of this appetising dish. Walter told 
us horrid details about the sufferings of the 
wretched goose, confined and overfed with fatten- 
ing foods until his liver should become just right 
for a perfect pate. Swinburne gave a very quaint 
twist to the discussion at this point. Turning to 
Walter he said, " It always has been a puzzle to 
me why they send across the Channel for goose's 
liver when we have so many fat geese here." My 
husband looked at him with an obvious note of 
interrogation in his eyes. Swinburne smiled his 
ineffable smile and answered the unspoken question. 
" Fat geese in England!" he chirruped gleefully, 
" Well, there's - - and there's - - and there's 
." And he went on with a list of names of 
men eminent in literature, men whom I had been 
taught to regard with respect. We both laughed, 
so he proceeded : " Now their livers carefully 
treated ought to make excellent pate de foie gras ! " 

I fear it may come as a shock to the aesthetic 
devotees -of Swinburne to learn that the hideous 
word "tolokeX" was not foreign to his vocabulary. 
Coming from him it sounded dreadful, and when 



first I heard him use it, I was almost scan- 
dalised. I spoke to Walter about it, and he 
informed me that Swinburne had picked up this 
bit of slang from Dante Gabriel. The poet-painter 
maliciously revelled in the use of the argot of the 
slums as he had been told that the outside world 
believed that he and his friends always spoke in a 
" mediaeval " style. My ear soon became inured 
to the prosaic monosyllable, for Swinburne would 
often say of a man he liked, "A very affable bloke, 
so-and-so." Such turns of speech would be out of 
place in a " Hymn to Proserpine " ; but heard in 
the home circle they sounded thanks to the 
speaker and his tone quite pleasant when I got 
used to them. 

The Bard made many quaint " finds " in the 
book line. One day he brought home from 
Wimbledon, " for a lark," as he expressed it, a 
tiny Coleridge in the Miniature Series. It con- 
tained " Kubla Khan " and other masterpieces, 
and was charmingly bound in brown suede. He 
was greatly excited and delighted that it included 
" Christabel," my husband's favourite among 
Coleridge's poems. He presented this little book 
as a veritable gem from Aladdin's Cave, 



saying not a word then about the magnificent 
" Christabel," illustrated by a facsimile of Cole- 
ridge's MS., which came to Walter a few days 

Another " find " was a diminutive volume (two 
inches tall and a little less in width) entitled, 
Verbum Sempiternum or " The Thumb Bible." 
The work is a reprint by Longman '(1849) of an 
opuscule by John Taylor the " water-poet," from 
an edition published in 1693, about forty years 
after that " literary bargee's " death. Taylor's 
art of summary produces something to make 
historians and prophets turn in their graves. 

Swinburne's favourite passage in the little book 
was the address to " The Reader." It was a rare 
treat to hear him read the lines in his funny 
solemn tones and with appropriate gestures. I 
wish I could reproduce the accent and the move- 
ments. Here, however, are the verses : 

With care and pains out of the Sacred Book, 
This little Abstract I, for thee, have took. 
And with great reverence have I cull'd from thence, 
All things that are of Greatest consequence. 
And all I beg, when thou tak'st it in hand, 
Before thou judge, be sure to understand : 
And as thy kindness thou extend 'st to me, 
At any time I'll do as much for thee. 

J. Taylor's method of conveying the truths of 
Scripture in tabloid form will be most easily appre- 
ciated by one example. The whole of the Book 
of Proverbs is disposed of in one couplet : 

The wisest Man that ever Man begot, 

In heav'nly Proverbs shews what's good, what's not. 

However much " kindness " one " extends " to 
J. Taylor, it is difficult to believe that his " Thumb 
Bible " put much strain on his piety. 

Swinburne's recitation of Taylor's introductory 
verses was invariably followed by a torrent 0f 
complimentary extravagance : " Prodigious and 
wonderful! ' " The greatest of us all." 

I recall an incident which illustrates at 
once the casual manner in which Swinburne 
read ordinary correspondence and the attitude 
he adopted towards poets who had not yet 
" arrived." 

On a date between 1897 and 1903, Countess 
Benckendorff sent to Swinburne for his perusal and 
advice a four-act play by Mr. Maurice Baring. 
A. C. S. wrote a reply, placed it with the play, 
and then forgot all about the matter. After his 
death the play and the letter were discovered. The 
following is the Bard's reply. It will be read with 
some surprise by his admirers : 



The Pines [undated] . 

Vous me demandez si votre niece a du talent, et si elle 
peut esperer du succes. 

Quant a cela, moi, qui vis hors du monde des lettres, je 
ivoserais pas hasarder un avis. 


Two things will appear strange to the reader in 
this communication. The first is how in the world 
Swinburne could have spoken of Mr. Baring as 
the niece of the Countess. Eventually a solution 
of the mystery flashed upon me. The poet 
evidently misread the word " Maurice ' in the 
Countess's handwritten letter as ' ' ma niece. ' ' The 
whole blunder is characteristic. Mr. Maurice 
Baring, who, since the date of this little 
misunderstanding, has taken a recognised place 
among the literati of the day, will no doubt, 
be merely amused by it. I confess that I 
cannot explain Swinburne's description of 
himself as one living outside the world of letters. 
.He who was honoured by its high priests, a 
voluminous contributor to the literature, poetical 
and critical, of his time " outside the world of 
letters " ! Why, he just palpitated with the life 
of that world. He knew no other, cared for no 
other. As to fearing " to hazard an opinion," 



he had no such fear when he took pen in hand ; 
nor did he seem restrained by any such feeling 
when he aired his opinions for the benefit of the 
home-circle. It was a case this plea of severance 
from the world of letters of ' * any excuse is better 
than none." He simply refused to look at the un- 
published work of any literary beginner, and there 
was no one in the world of letters to whom a novice 
could appeal with less hope of success than the 
author of "Atalanta in Calydon." It sounds a 
very unsympathetic attitude, but his day was too 
occupied by his own work for him to find any 
reserve of time to devote to the task of advising 
literary aspirants. 

It seems hardly credible, but Swinburne one 
day gave me a sermon a veritable sermon 
preached by a real priest of the Established 
Church. He had kept the thing by him for years, 
why, I cannot say. It was part of a collection of 
miscellaneous odds and ends that he had accumu- 

The author of the sermon was a certain Mr. 
Purchas who had a cure of souls in Brighton. 
Purchas had indulged in certain practices at the 
altar which had caused him to be "persecuted ' 



by the evangelical party. The persecution caused 
the name of Purchas to be known far and wide 
though his ritualistic candles and genuflexions 
were as trifles to the practices that are accepted 
now as a matter of course in thousands of our 

Now the Purchas persecution synchronised with 
the persecution, by the same party, of the author 
of the " Poems and Ballads." When Swinburne 
presented me with the printed discourse he 
expressed a hope that it would help to build me 
up in my most holy faith, and he told me that 
it had been accompanied by a letter in which 
the Brighton vicar expressed sympathy with the 
poet under the attacks which had been made upon 

" I have never read the sermon," said A. C. S. 
to me, " and I am confident that my reverend 
correspondent never read the ' Poems and Ballads.' 
Had he glanced through them he would scarcely 
have ranked me in his holy regard as a sort of 
Christian martyr." He struck an attitude, finger- 
tips of both hands touching and held over 
his breast ; his head bent sideways over one 
shoulder, and the whites of his eyes showing. One 
lost saw the halo which he imagined. A droll 
)icture ! 



We always tried to make Swinburne's birthday 
a festive occasion. On every anniversary shoals 
of congratulatory letters and telegrams and flowers 
would arrive at the house from strangers, at none 
of which would the poet give even a glance. But 
he would beam all over with pleasure at being 
remembered by his friends and relatives. It was a 
matter of some difficulty to select a suitable present 
for him other than a book. He never smoked and 
hated the very smell of tobacco. Walter told 
me that the Bard really liked sweet biscuits, and 
I was wont on anniversary occasions to present 
him with these dainties in a pretty box. Once 
to my great delight I came across a tin case 
designed to represent a series of volumes of Sir 
Walter Scott or Charles Dickens it is so long 
ago that I forget which of the authors had been 
honoured in this way by the biscuit manufacturer. 
Nor does it matter very much as the sequel will 
show. To all appearances it looked like a row of 
books in handsome bindings, and no One would have 
suspected that it was filled with a choice variety of 
toothsome cakes. In my unwisdom, I thought this 
would be quite the thing for his birthday present 
and prove a tremendous surprise. I purchased 
it imagining the while how pleased Swinburne 
would be. How he would inspect the supposed 



volumes ! How he would try to pull one out, 
and his sensations when he discovered that a prac- 
tical joke had been played on him and that he had 
been presented not with food for the mind, but 
with edible delectabilities ! Fortunately, I told 
.my husband of my purchase. Walter was aghast. 
When he saw the dummy books, he exclaimed 
with genuine horror, " Take it back at once. Get 
anything but that. Algernon would be so 
disgusted so enraged to think that the mind of 
man could sink so low and insult literature to such 
a degree as to imitate the outside covers of his 
beloved authors in tin ! And worse far worse 
the inside to be filled with biscuits ! ' 

I took the offensive box back. And I purchased 
for the illustrious man the inevitable book. 




AFTER I had known Swinburne for some time 
say a year after my marriage I became im- 
pressed with the fact that he possessed a dual 

One Swinburne, and this the more lovable, was 
the man we knew in the intimacy of the domestic 
circle. The other was that aspect of himself which 
was presented to the visitor, the acquaintance, or 
the stranger within our gates. 

When Walter and I were alone with the poet 
he was absolutely natural, cheerful, sometimes full 
of fun, and always interested in the little things 
of life. When visitors were present, Swinburne 
was quite a different man. He was restrained 
and reticent until something was said about a 
writer or an orator or an emperor whom at the 
moment he either loved or loathed. Then the 



sluices were opened. He burst into a flow, of 
eulogy or vituperation, amazing and torrential. 

If the presence of visitors brought out a 
Swinburne quite different from the gay and blithe- 
some boy whom Walter and I knew, it also 
discovered a Swinburne physically different. Quite 
a number of those who were admitted to The 
Pines have, after departure, considered it quite 
the right thing to publish their recollections of the 
visit. And those persons have invariably noted 
the poet's deafness. Less excusable and some- 
times, to speak bluntly, more detestable have been 
the physical personalia which have spiced articles 
on Swinburne in scores of magazines and news- 

Now what is the truth? As to the deafness, 
neither Walter nor I found the slightest difficulty 
in making him hear all we said, and that without 
unduly raising the voice. The same may be said 
of Mrs. Mason, Walter's sister, who was a great 
favourite of the poet and possessed a particularly 
soft and flexible voice. When Swinburne had 
become accustomed to the timbre of a voice as in 
the case of the individuals I have mentioned, con- 
versation was perfectly easy as well as delightful. 
For Swinburne had a fine sense of humour; 
his persiflage was invariably brilliant, and his 

Q 241 


more serious utterances attained real eloquence 
If visitors found him very deaf, I offer this explan- 
ation. He himself was conscious of defective 
hearing. He had the super-sensitiveness that is 
inseparable from the poetic temperament. The 
consciousness of his affliction reacted on his nerves, 
and his nerves, in their turn, reacted on his ear. 
He was hard of hearing, but in the presence of 
strangers his deafness temporarily increased. 

As to certain spasmodic movements of Swin- 
burne, a jerkiness of arms and shoulders, an 
uncontrollable mobility of legs and feet, I can only 
say that these signs of electrical overcharge, or 
defect in whatever Nature employs to maintain 
equilibrium, have been exaggerated by journalists 
beyond the limit of decency. 

It is true that he was so carried away by 
excitement that he seemed unable to keep his 
feet or legs still when he recited either tragic or 
purely humorous sentences. In fact his whole 
body vibrated on these occasions. 

But under ordinary circumstances when 
strangers were not present this eccentricity of 
sensitiveness was never observable. He made no 
convulsive movement in the intimacy of our 
domestic circle or when he was in the company 
of his relatives or old and much-loved friends. 



People with whom he was on less familiar terms 
sometimes affected him adversely with the result 
that inconsiderate or malicious writers have 
depicted Swinburne as a grotesquely restless being 
a sort of human aspen. 

My own opinion is that he was morbidly excited 
by the presence of those with whom he intuitively 
felt that he was not en rapport. To mental atmos- 
phere he was wonderfully sensitive. The strangers 
who took note of his spasmodic movements and 
seemed incapable of noting anything else were 
blissfully unconscious of the fact that they them- 
selves were the cause of the " symptom " which 
they deplored. 

Swinburne was apt to resent the presence of 
persons with whom he knew himself to be entirely 
out of sympathy ; and he sometimes avenged him- 
self by making with apparent seriousness, weird 
statements which were by no means his real 
convictions. Thus he has been debited with the 
assertion that he took no interest in the work of any 
poet who began to sing after the year 1850. This, 
to my knowledge, is untrue. He was deeply 
interested in such of the younger poets as evinced 
genius and wrote with distinction. For instance, 



of the poems of Mr. Alfred Noyes he spoke with 
genuine enthusiasm. He followed that writer's 
poetic career with pleasure and the appreciation 
of a critical poet for a fellow craftsman. He also 
had a great appreciation for the poetry of Dora 
Sigerson. Hence if he expressed to a visitor 
the Opinion that in contemporary verse there was 
nothing new that was good and nothing good that 
was new, I feel justified in making the inference 
that Swinburne had been amusing himself by 
pulling that visitor's leg. 

It is pleasant to recall the fact that the tribute 
which Mr. Noyes paid to the older poet on Swin- 
burne's seventieth birthday was more fortunate 
than many a well- woven wreath. The ode to 
which I refer, and which immensely pleased 
Swinburne, contains these memorable lines : 

He needs no crown of ours, whose golden heart 
Poured out its wealth so freely in pure praise 
Of others : him the imperishable bays 
Crown, and on Sunium's height he sits apart, 
He hears immortal greetings this great morn ! 
Fain would we bring, we also, all we may 
Some wayside flower of transitory bloom, 
Frail tribute only born 
To greet the gladness of this April day, 
Then waste on Death's dark wind its faint perfume. 

In acknowledging the ode Swinburne wrote the 
following very charming letter : 

The Pines, 

March 29/7. 

Thank you very cordially for your fine verses, which 
have given me sincere pleasure. 

I wish I could hope that my appreciation of your praise 
could give you half the pleasure that Hugo's too generous 
appreciation of my tributes repeatedly gave me. 

Very truly yours, 





DURING my joyous married life, a dark shadow 
.would occasionally obtrude itself on my sunlit 
path, but not long enough to cause me to feel more 
than a passing uneasiness. In the vague silhouette 
was scarcely discernible the menacing figure of 
Death, for as yet I knew nothing of the touch of 
his icy fingers. But if the Bard were ailing, or 
Walter himself out of sorts, a nameless " some- 
thing " would creep into my heart. Then would 
Walter very simply and beautifully try to make 
me recognise in Death a kindly Harvester who 
one day might enter our home and take either 
himself or Swinburne to "that Kingdom beyond 
Orion " as he termed the peaceful abode of dis- 
carnate souls. He hated, however, to see the look 
of distress on my face that such talks produced. 
And when all cause for uneasiness had passed 



away, he would always be the first to assure me 
that "All's right with the world." His com- 
passionate heart was troubled by the thought 
inexpressibly painful to him, that if he were called 
away before Swinburne, there would be another 
besides myself equally dear though in a different 
way left to face life without his protecting, 
brotherly love. 

Swinburne knew it too, and oh, how miserable 
he would be if Walter were at all ill. At such 
times, try as I might, I found it well-nigh 
impossible to imagine his life without Walter. 

As the welfare of Algernon was always Walter's 
first consideration, he brooded deeply over this 
possible contingency, and deemed it advisable, in 
view of its arising, to make me acquainted with his 
inmost thoughts and desires regarding the care of 
his beloved friend. That Swinburne was spared 
the pain of losing his " best friend " (as he termed 
Walter in the dedication of " Tristram") is an 
argument in favour of the existence of a Special 
Providence, or of that Natura Benigna of whom 
the author of " The Coming of Love ' so 
beautifully sang. 

I have already shown the reader how youthful 



Swinburne essentially was, and how the abounding 
energy of childhood seemed to radiate from him. 
Truly he, had the effect of belonging to no age 
in particular, although according to the calendar 
his years numbered sixty. He was so young in 
spirit, that meeting him so constantly, he seemed 
in my eyes a veritable Peter Pan, a simile which 
aptly pairs with Tennyson's description of him as 
" a reed through which all things blow into 

He fostered the illusion that he was a child in 
more ways than one, and I unconsciously came to 
regard him, chiefly because of his heedlessness and 
utter carelessness of himself, as " the boy who 
wouldn't grow up." 

So good was his general health, thanks no doubt 
to his regular habits, that he seemed immune from 
all the ills that flesh is heir to. Whenever I 
asked Walter after the health of the Bard, I was 
so accustomed to hearing my enquiry met with the 
cheery rejoinder, "Algernon is in great force," 
that it came as a shock to me in November, 1903, 
to learn that he was stricken by pneumonia. 
During Swinburne's illness, I received daily 
bulletins from Walter reporting the condition of 
his friend. I remember vividly the anxiety I felt 
on first seeing in the street the orange placard of 



the Pall Mall Gazette announcing in big black 
letters " Serious Illness of Mr. Swinburne." 

I had never known him to be dangerously ill 

before, and although his state until the crisis had 

passed seriously alarmed the household at The 

Pines, he himself, when out of danger, refused to 

believe he had been as ill as he undoubtedly had 

been. He made the worst possible patient in the 

world, and hated the sight of the nurses to w r hose 

care, much to his own annoyance, his life was 

entrusted. He didn't see the necessity for nurses, 

and resented their installation in no very polite 

language. When I saw him after his recovery, 

and, with the understanding of one who had lain 

at death's door with pneumonia two years before, 

congratulated him on what was considered his 

narrow escape, he pooh-poohed all mention of the 

" disagreeable time," as he called it, through 

which he had passed, and only chafed because he 

felt temporarily weak. 

His waywardness at this time made poor 
Walter chronically anxious about him, and I would 
hear a variety of reports, more or less amusing, of 
the Bard's irresponsibility and imprudent indiffer- 
ence to the rules laid down for a convalescent. A 
fear of a relapse never entered his head, although, 
needless to say, it was the dread of everybody else. 



He recovered so marvellously that, so far as out- 
ward appearances went, he was soon as well as 
ever. But Walter feared the effects of an illness 
that is apt to leave a trace behind it in some 
form or another. In the case of Swinburne it 
left, apparently without his knowing it, a chest- 
weakness which rendered him slightly more 
susceptible to cold. He never complained, but 
Walter became very worried if he came home 
at all wet from a showier. No excuses about not 
needing to change or keeping luncheon waiting 
were of the least use. Walter fidgeted until 
he had put on dry things, and refused to look 
happy until he saw the Bard appear, high and dry 
and jubilant, to take his place at the table. 

Being thus guarded from his own disdain of 
danger from cold, Swinburne's life went tranquilly 
on with never an ache or pain. But he was 
vulnerable after all, and when in 1909 the first 
chilliness of Spring brought with it a visitation of 
influenza, he was one of its victims. 

The last episode of his life was preceded by an 
attack towards the end of March on Walter by the 
same malady. My mother had succumbed to it 
only three weeks before, and my alarm can be 
better imagined than described. The doctor, 
however, did not take a serious view of Walter's 



condition, though he ordered him to go to bed at 
once. Now, Walter, even more than Swinburne, 
disliked staying in bed, however out of sorts he 
felt, so he did not obey the doctor's order, but 
tried to keep up the whole of the day, contending 
that it depressed him horribly to stay in bed 
when he wanted to be up. The next day his 
temperature had risen, and willy-nilly he could not 
get up. 

Luckily I was in very good health, and was 
appointed to be my husband's nurse. Walter's 
chief concern now, in spite of feeling exceedingly 
ill, was how to deal with Algernon how to 
account for his non-appearance at the mid-day 
meal, and how to keep him out of his sick room. 
The fear of his contracting the malady if he stayed 
by his friend's bedside, and the danger of a fresh 
attack of pneumonia, filled our minds with nervous 
apprehension on the Bard's behalf. To alarm 
Swinburne unnecessarily was a thing to guard 
against, and Walter's non-appearance at luncheon 
would be certain to give rise to comment. Duly 
coached by Walter how to meet questions, I 
was deputed to say that as he had a :t slight 
cold " he was taking his meals in his room for 
that day. 

The first thing that met Swinburne's eye when 



he came to lunch was Walter's empty place 
opposite him. After a minute or two he turned 
to me with the question I could see before I heard 
it, " Where's Walter? " I repeated what I had 
been authorised to say. 

" Oh! " exclaimed Algernon, looking surprised 
and disappointed, but not otherwise perturbed, 
" I'll go and see how he is after luncheon." 

Before taking his usual siesta he presented 
himself in Walter's bedroom. He expressed 
his solicitude, and commiserated him upon being 
forced to keep to his room. " But," added he, 
quite cheerfully, and with never a trace of 
any misgiving, " I can just as well read to you 
here, so you'll see me at the usual time ready to 
go on with our book." He looked towards us 
with a happy smile on his face as he made this 
announcement, and with the prospect of being 
able to indulge in one of his few little pleasures 
he went to his own bedroom. The book he 
referred to was " Ivanhoe," and for weeks past, 
with unfailing regularity, upon awakening re- 
freshed from his afternoon sleep, he had gone into 
Walter's study to read for an hour or so from the 
pages of this beautiful romance. 

Punctually at the appointed hour, a tap was 
heard at the bedroom door, and there stood the 


Bard patiently awaiting permission to enter. He 
walked straight up to Walter's bedside and took a 
seat beside him. He had " Ivanhoe " in his hand 
all ready to begin. Before reading, he gave a 
brief synopsis of the events occurring in the pre- 
ceding chapter, and of those about to follow a 
usual custom with him when reading a book they 
both knew well. Then, looking at me for an 
instant, expecting me either to get up and 
leave them alone, or sit where I was and listen, 
he turned to the place where they had left off 
the day before and asked, " Shall we begin? " 
But Walter suggested that he might catch his cold 
if he sat near him for even half-an-hour, and sug- 
gested that they should postpone the reading till 
to-morrow, when they would be able to continue 
as usual. Swinburne looked woefully disappointed 
at being thus banished, and turning his gaze in my 
direction, he enquired, "And will Clara stay and 
read it to you then ? ' ' Walter assured him I would 
do nothing of the kind, and promised that only he 
should continue the narrative, explaining that as 
he was really not at all well, the doctor thought 
it advisable that I should be at hand to wait on 

Swinburne appeared satisfied with this answer, 
and expressed his sorrow at his friend's condition. 



He seemed depressed, and just before leaving the 
room he said to me with rather a pathetic ring in 
his voice, and more than a suspicion of a sigh, 
"Ah, you are the privileged one ! ' But with the 
anticipation of resuming " Ivanhoe ' on the 
morrow, he regained his equanimity. Later, 
when he returned with the evening paper, in which 
he had discovered some item of news that he felt 
compelled to impart to us, he was as jolly as ever, 
and was allowed to stay for a little while and read 
it out. 

The next day was cold and blustering, and 
Walter could guess what the weather would be 
like outside. He sent me to ascertain if Swinburne 
had gone out, and if he was still indoors, I was told 
to ask him not to go for his usual four-mile tramp 
across the Common. But he had already started 
a little earlier than usual a circumstance, which I 
explained as an attempt to obtain a remedy for a 
surfeit of his own society. 

All the time he was out, Walter was wondering 
about him and fuming over his recklessness, for 
of course we knew he had not put on an over- 
coat despite the keenness of the air and the 
lowering clouds. 

As soon as we heard him mounting the stairs it 
was easy to hear him, for he had a habit of noisily 



kicking each stair in his ascent the " Colonel "* 
went out to the landing to meet him and tell him 
to make haste and change. 

He appeared in the doorway, boisterously 
happy, but very wet. He had enjoyed the 
exercise because of the rain, not in spite of it, and 
looked exhilarated and well. Walter remonstrated 
with him for venturing out on such a day, telling 
him that such weather was enough to chill anybody 
to death. Of course the Bard could not agree 
with him. He always contended rain never did 
him any harm, and that he liked to feel it beating 
against his face. 

What a " Peter Pan " he looked as he stood 
there laughing, and not in the least concerned 
about himself! But he had caught cold, and 
when in the late afternoon he paid us another 
visit, " to see how Walter was getting on," he 
looked weary and listless, in strange contrast to the 
picture he had presented in the earlier part of the 
day. He did not even suggest another chapter 
or two of " Ivanhoe," which he had so earnestly 
desired the afternoon before, and went downstairs 
looking as unlike himself as possible. 

On April 2nd, in order to prevent a repetition of 

* My husband's secretary, Edmund Hake, called " Colonel " 
as a joke. 



his escapade of the day before, the weather still 
continuing cold and damp, some little time before 
the hour for him to start, Walter sent a very 
peremptory message to him absolutely forbidding 
him to go out. The next morning we were con- 
siderably surprised to learn that he had not left 
his room, and had requested the maid to bring 
his breakfast up to him, as he intended to stay 
where he was. She told us that he seemed quite 
bright, and was laughing over the book he was 
reading as he lay in bed. Such an unusual 
proceeding naturally alarmed us, for Swinburne 
despised the malade imaginaire. Walter looked 
very worried, and I remember how amused he was 
at my knowledge of the Bard's funny little ways 
when I endeavoured to cheer him by suggesting 
that perhaps he was only bored, and was staying 
in bed because he (Walter) was doing likewise. 
When the doctor arrived to pay his daily visit, 
my husband asked him to "go in and have a look 
at Swinburne." 

The friends' bedrooms adjoined, and the doors 
being left open it was quite easy to hear all that 
the doctor said. Owing to Swinburne's deafness, 
he had to speak with his voice considerably raised 
in order that Algernon could catch his words. I 
remember vividly hearing him ask in a loud and 



cheery tone, "And how are you, sir? " I could 
not catch the poor Bard's reply. I expect he was 
none too pleased to receive a visit from one of the 
faculty. Presently the voice of the doctor was again 
heard telling A. C. S. how much more comfortable 
he would be in his big study downstairs, where there 
was a coal fire, than in his bedroom where there 
was only a gas stove. We anxiously awaited the 
doctor's verdict, and in a few minutes he appeared 
announcing that Swinburne was very ill, and that 
he feared complications as the illness developed. 

Two trained nurses were quickly on the scene, 
and Sir Thomas Barlow was telephoned for to 
consult with Dr. White. But Sir Thomas 
Barlow was away spending Easter on the 
Continent, and Sir Douglas Powell was called in. 
Both doctors took a grave view of the case, and 
when I next saw Swinburne he was lying on the 
little bed that had been hastily prepared for him 
in his library. Even then he was occasionally 
delirious, and our anxiety deepened. A nurse 
was stationed on the landing outside his room with 
the door open, for in his lucid moments it would 
have irritated him to see a strange woman sitting 
by his bedside. Walter prepared both nurses for 
the possibility that their presence might excite 
their distinguished patient to the utterance of 

R 257 


" Elizabethan language," and requested them n< 
to go near him except when absolutely necessary. 
Upstairs in his room, although by now he wj 
gaining strength, Walter lay in bed strained an< 
nervous, wondering what the issue would be. Al 
intervals I would go down to Swinburne to take 
little messages to him from Walter. I found that 
he absolutely refused to allow the nurse 
administer oxygen. Though he was sometime 
delirious, he was conscious enough to know that 
a stranger was bending over him, and when she 
attempted to place the tube near his mouth he 
beat it away with his hands, crying Out in ai 
enfeebled voice, " Take it away, take it away ! 

But the nurse's science told her that oxygen vri 
necessary, and accordingly Walter's influence w* 
asked for and promptly used. Acting as Walter'* 
proxy, I went to Swinburne's bedside and told hii 
that Walter considered the oxygen to be akin t( 
a sea-breeze, and that it would do him all the goo< 
in the world. He opened his eyes and gladb 
allowed me to put the tube quite near his mouth 
as he inhaled the vapour without another murmur. 

It was painful sometimes to watch him hurl the 
blankets off his chest and shoulders as he tossed 
about in a state of high fever. No sooner had the 
nurse or I replaced them than he would again try 



to fling them off. Occasionally he would talk 
wildly for a long while without stopping. I 
remember the nurse asked me in what language 
he was talking. I could catch a word here and there 
as he muttered long sentences with astonishing 
rapidity, and an occasional phrase in his disjointed 
monologue made me guess that he was speaking 
or reciting in Greek. I told Walter about this : 
he did not contradict me, pathetically sighing, 
"Ah, poor boy, poor boy! ' 

I have no wish to start an occult legend, yet I feel 
my account of Swinburne's death would be incom- 
plete if I did not mention a curious sense of hearing 
presaging chords of music which invaded me 
whenever I entered his room and found him either 
breathing heavily or moaning in broken accents in 
uneasy sleep. All was so still and quiet in that 
book-lined chamber, and save for his low murmurs, 
not a sound, even from without, could be heard. 

It did not matter now which of us held the 
oxygen to his parched and feverish lips, for he 
knew no one. 

The doctor called again towards evening and 
gave no ray of hope. He knew Swinburne must 
die. Double pneumonia was fast gaining 
mastery over him in rapid strides. Many letters 
and telegrams of congratulation on his birthday 



(April 5th) still lay unopened on his table, and 
the lovely bunch of daffodils that a lady, a 
stranger, had brought were still fresh and bloom- 
ing. At any other time how both he and Walter 
would have rhapsodised over these flowers that told 
of the arrival of Spring. I know Shakespeare's 
lovely lines from " The Winter's Tale " would 
assuredly have been quoted. They were so 
intensely admired by both, and not only at this 
season, but often at other times would I hear of 


That come before the swallow dares, and take 

The winds of March with beauty. 

Soon after Dr. White had left the room, the 
nurse turned to me and asked Swinburne's age. 
I told her he had just passed his seventy-third 
birthday. She made no comment, but ejaculated 
with a gloomy significance of tone which I think 
I shall never forget, " Ah, Ah ! ' It was this 
tone, far more than the doctor's foreboding 
expression as he cast his eyes towards poor uncon- 
scious Algernon, that impressed me with a feeling 
of doom. 

Late that same evening when I was sitting 
beside Walter, I told him how unhappy I had 
felt all day, and how the nurse's exclamation had 



affected me. It was then about ten o'clock, and 
we heard the night-nurse pass the door on her way 

After thinking deeply for some time, as if he, 
too, felt the end was approaching, Walter turned to 
me and said, " Clara, help me on with my dressing- 
gown. I'm going down to see Algernon." He was 
very weak, and when I helped him into the coat 
as he stood on the floor for the first time in ten 
days he trembled. With my aid he got to the top 
of the stairs, and holding on to the banisters 
succeeded in descending the staircase. As I 
watched his progress from the landing and saw 
him enter Swinburne's room, I felt my heart 
beating violently, and for a moment I seemed to 
stop breathing. 

He was not gone very long, and when he 
returned to the bedroom it was some time before 
he could speak. Then it was only to strain me 
to him and murmur in a broken voice, " Oh, 
Clara, Clara! ' I knew just how he must be 
feeling, and for some time neither of us spoke. I 
sat holding his hand and pressing it gently. After 
a few minutes he returned my pressure, looked 
up bravely in my face, and with never a break in 
his voice said, " Go and tell the night-nurse to 
come here and speak to me." When she appeared 



he told her in a quiet collected tone, " If you se< 
any change in the night, come and tell me." Bui 
there was no occasion to arouse him, and it was 
not till about ten o'clock the next morning (April 
10) that Swinburne passed very quietly and peace- 
fully away. He had been ill just a week. 

What the death of Algernon meant to Walter 
cannot be expressed in words. I don't think he 
ever got over it. 

But weak and shaken as he was, his faculties 
had lo be on the alert, and he at once braced 
himself to the business ahead of him in connection 
with Swinburne's funeral. There was much that 
necessitated his immediate attention, and for the 
time being he was obliged to devote himself to it. 

In the afternoon of April 10 we received a visit 
from his and Algernon's old friend, William M. 
Rossetti, who came down to Putney accompanied 
by his daughter Helen directly he received th( 
tragic news. 

The sight of this dear and devoted comrade at 
such a moment affected my poor Walter to tears, 
and when I returned to the room after leaving 
them for some time, I found William's ai 
round his shoulders as he endeavoured to comfoi 



him. But what particularly arrested my eye at 
that moment was the photograph that lay on the 
bed ; it had not been there before, and they had 
evidently been discussing it. It was one of D. G. 
Rossetti's drawings, " The Question," which 
represents a young man in the prime of life 
gazing resolutely into the impenetrable face of 
the Sphinx, who is represented as a creature half- 
woman and half -beast, with outstretched wings on 
the shoulders. A youth on the threshold of 
manhood has fallen on his knees by the wayside, 
bent on solving the great riddle, whilst an old man, 
leaning on his staff, is advancing from the right 
with feeble gait to ask of the Sphinx the great 
question, " Whither? " 

This incident made a deep impression on my 
mind, for though I did not know what the con- 
versation had been, it was clear it had to do with 
thoughts suggested by the passing of Algernon. 

How splendid and noble Swinburne looked as 
he lay dead in that room where for more than 
thirty years he had worked and thought. There 
was the same calm and placid look of well-being 
that had characterised him in life. I was so 
struck by the likeness he bore to Tennyson, of 
whom a beautiful photogravure portrait after the 
painting by Millais was hanging in the next room, 



that I called Dr. White in to look at it. Each 
man possessed a magnificent domed forehead ; 
Tennyson's head rose higher above the frontal 
bones, but the breadth across the head which was 
so noticeable a feature in Swinburne when alive, 
appeared less so in death and heightened the 

When I took William Rossetti into the death- 
chamber he was very deeply affected as he gazed 
for the last time upon the features of his friend. 
And he, who had known Swinburne for so many 
years, agreed with me when I pointed out the 
resemblance to Tennyson. 

After William and his daughter had gone, I 
went alone into the familiar room, and gazed my 
fill into Swinburne's face, and thought and thought 
for a long while. In the stillness, I felt a sense of 
calm steal over me. Then, perhaps because I had 
seen the book he had been reading before he was 
brought downstairs (" Investigations of the 
Chevalier Dupin") my thoughts drifted to Poe's 
Raven, whose " Nevermore " was sounding in my 
brain. And as I thought of the bereaved hero of 
that poem and of the mystic bird perched eternally 
above his door, I involuntarily looked at the 
portrait of Mazzini, hanging above the bureau in 
the chamber of death. That melancholy face of 



fixed resolve seemed that of a Raven transformed 
to a human being, and I almost imagined I heard 
the " Nevermore." 

And then I felt I wanted to see Swinburne's 
eyes once again, even though it were in death. I 
ventured to raise his eyelids very gently, and found 
that they looked just as I had so often seen them, 
infinitely kind. With the memory of all he 
meant to me I left the room. 




TELEGRAMS and letters from all quarters arrived | 
by every post. Walter was far too ill to answer 
them ; but to special friends of his and Swinburne's 
he commissioned me to reply by telegram. I 
remember an especially long one I sent to the 
dead poet's friend, Lady Ritchie. 

It was a very trying time, relieved by visits from 
near and dear friends. Mr. and Mrs. Holman 
Hunt arrived one day, and offered the rare balm 
of understanding sympathy that goes direct to 
the heart. Mr. Ernest Rhys, the Welsh poet, 
and Mr. James Douglas, a frequent visitor and 
special friend of both my husband and Swinburne, 
came on alternate afternoons, and did Walter 
much good. Dear Lady Archibald Campbell 
assured us with characteristic optimism that " Our 
dear Bard is just as happy as ever in yonder 



Sphere." In beautiful and touching fashion, the 
Ranee of Sarawak paid her last adieux to one 
towards whom she felt a very tender regard. 
Walter was not well enough to see her on the day 
she called. She asked me, I well remember, in a 
voice trembling with tears, to be allowed to go 
into Swinburne's room and place quite near his 
heart the posy of flowers she had brought. I felt 
she would prefer to be alone in the death-chamber 
and did not follow her. She stayed for a little 
while to think her own sweet thoughts in solitude, 
and when she reappeared she was deeply moved. 
Afterwards, when we were in the drawing-room, 
I heard again from her lips of the visits (often 
alluded to by the Bard) which he had paid to her 
son Bertram when he was ill and found difficulty 
in recovering his health after a severe illness. 
These visits had been a pleasure to the poet as well 
as to the invalid, whom dear Swinburne had much 
cheered. The memory of the poet's kindness 
towards her suffering boy had sown the seeds of 
deep and lasting gratitude in the Ranee's tender 
heart. By this time the library where Swinburne 
lay resembled a fairy bower, so full was it of beauti- 
ful flowers. Whilst scores of wreaths were ranged 
round his bier, I placed on the coffin itself only a 
tribute of laurel leaves " To Algernon with 



Walter's love." When I told my husband what 
I had done, he said tenderly, " That was right, 

A sweet token that would, I know, have pleased 
the poet more than any other, was the little bunch 
of Spring flowers sent by a tiny admirer. Between 
ruled lines, on a card on which was easily discern- 
ible the pencil marks of the composer of the 
sentence, and inked over by an obviously very 
youthful hand, was this inscription : 

" From Robin " 

The little boy to whom Mr. Swinburne 
used to wave his hand. 

Lovely was the day that saw Swinburne's 
mortal remains taken to their last resting-place. 
Allowing that the sea would have been the ideal 
cemetery for the man who sang its glories more 
divinely than any other Englishman, no other place 
on earth could have been found more appropriate 
than the little Island he loved. As the writer of 
an Isle of Weight guide-book remarks, the church- 
yard at Bonchurch is so beautiful that, to quote 
r Shelley, it might make one " in love with death " 


to think one .would be buried in so sweet a place. 

One incident which occurred on the journey 

across the Solent created an indelible impression 

on those who witnessed it. 



We had reached the point where for a few 
minutes the little steamer was apparently out of 
sight of land. The sea was quite calm, and as I 
stood on the upper deck looking down at the 
tarpaulin-covered coffin in the bows of the deck 
below me, one great sunlit wave came sweeping 
towards us as if to enfold that dark burden in 
its embrace. Right over the bows and the coffin 
the white glory of the foam swept as if to take 
farewell of the sea's great lover in one last 
caress. This incident will remind lovers of Shelley 
of the legend of the sea-bird which hovered over 
his pyre. 

That Swinburne's funeral was wot the unor- 
thodox ceremony he had desired was plain enough 
to all those who saw it. For myself, speaking as 
an eye-witness, the simple Church of England 
Service was very beautiful, and I do not believe 
that Swinburne in his heart of hearts was so 
violently agnostic and opposed to Christianity as 
his hatred of the crimes of bigotry has led people to 
think. His letters to his mother in the book by his 
cousin, Mrs. Leith, " The Boyhood of Algernon 
Charles Swinburne," show what sane and sweet 
ideas regarding the after-life he entertained. To 
her whom he loved so dearly he wrote in 1892 : 
" It is so beautiful and delightful to think of 'being 


together when this life is over,' as you say, and 
of seeing things no longer ' in a glass darkly,' and 
all who have ever tried to do a little bit of what 
they thought right being brought together if 
what they thought right was not absolutely wicked 
and shocking like the beliefs of persecutors, and 
understanding and loving each other that I some- 
times feel as if it ought hardly to be talked about.' 

Undoubtedly Swinburne did not deny the 
existence of a life beyond the grave. 

Again I quote from Mrs. Leith's book in another 
letter to his mother written in 1885 just after the 
death of Victor Hugo : " When I think of his 
(Hugo's) intense earnestness of faith in a future 
life and a better world than this, and remember 
how fervently Mazzini always urged upon all who 
loved him the necessity of that belief and the 
certainty of its actual truth, I feel very deeply that 
they must have been right or at least that they 
should have been however deep and difficult the 
mystery which was so clear and transparent to 
their inspired and exalted minds may seem to such 

as mine.' 

I don't know what conclusions my husband and 
Algernon had come to in different conversations 
on the vexed subjects of immortality and funeral 
rites ; but I understood that the poet expressed a 



wish that orthodox ritual should be omitted at his 
funeral. Unfortunately his will conveyed no instruc- 
tions respecting the disposal of his remains ; and 
though Walter did all he could to have the funeral 
conducted in harmony with the dead man's views, 
he was far too unwell to exert the necessary 
pressure or exercise the required ingenuity to have 
things done in accordance with them. 

To Sir John Swinburne (the poet's cousin) who 
acompanied me down to Bonchurch, my husband 
gave as lucid instructions as was possible in 
telegrams regarding that part of the religious 
service which was to be performed ; and the night 
before the ceremony, the Rector of Bonchurch 
had been advised that in deference to the poet's 
wishes the Church of England Burial Service must 
not be used. In the railway-carriage during the 
journey to Ventnor, Sir John rehearsed his part to 
me, to Swinburne's cousin, Lord Gwydyr, and to 
the latter's son-in-law, Sir John Henniker Heaton, 
until he quite tired us out. 

We were all under the impression that every- 
thing would go as arranged, and that the service 
would be conducted with due regard for the wishes 
of the illustrious dead. But, in the circumstances, 
there was nothing to be done. The Rector of 
Bonchurch met the coffin as it left the hearse and 



immediately began reading the first lines of the 
Burial Service as the mourners walked in procession 
to the grave. There was no preliminary service 
held in the Church, but apart from this concession 
possibly an important one Swinburne's body 
was consigned to the grave in accordance with the 
rites of the Established Church of England. 

As an old friend of the poet tersely remarked 
after the obsequies were over, " You see, you 
can't even get buried the way you want without 
your relations interfering." 

The Free- Thinkers' press was very acrimonious 
after Swinburne's funeral. Pamphlets galore 
arrived for Walter, but I took care that he saw 
none of them. Also for me, for the writers imag- 
ined I was the person responsible for the funeral 
service, seeing I had represented my husband at 
the graveside. I was invited to enter into 
controversy with a variety of persons who deal in 
Free Thought. If they had searched the globe, 
they could not have fastened on anyone mOr< 
unfitted to take part in such a duel of words, an( 
the matter ended with my silence. When Waltei 
died in June, 1914, and they again attacked him- 
or his memory I appealed to my friend, Mr. 
Edward Clodd, at whose charming house at 
Aldeburgh I then stayed for a day or two, to put 


matters right. He replied to the offending 
journal thus : 

In a too cursory reading of the paragraphs by 
" Mimnermus " in your July issue, his comment on the late 
Theodore Watts-Dunton's assumed permission of the use 
of the orthodox ritual at Swinburne's funeral escaped my 

Will you permit me to say that the assumption is 
wholly unwarranted? Not long before his death Mr. 
Watts-Dunton repeated to me his feeling of deep vexation, 
not only as to the mockery of recital of the orthodox ritual, 
but also as to the placing of a cross over the remains of a 
friend who was anti-Christian to the end. For such actions 
the relations of Algernon Swinburne, and they alone, are 


After Swinburne had been taken to his last 
resting-place, the house seemed strange. His room 
looked a desert, and everything there, particu- 
larly the pictures of ships, reminded one of those 
little things that had gone to make up his life. 
Especially was this the case with a charming little 
water-colour, by C. Jeffcock, of South wold Beach, 
with " Boats in Brilliant Sunshine," which he had 
acquired but a short time before his death and was 
very fond of and justly, for one could almost feel 
the wind blowing from the sea through the sails 
of the boats on shore. 



It was less sad to look at the portraits of his 
friends who had gone before him. There was Sir 
Edward Burne- Jones " Ned," as Swinburne 
always called him standing in an unstudied atti- 
tude on some tall steps in his studio, palette and 
brushes in hand, at work on one of his large 
canvases. A splendid photo of William Morris 
occupied a place "on the line " near the door. 
Walter Savage Landor also was placed con- 
veniently for the worshipping eye. And his 
books, there they were, serried rows of them, just 
as Swinburne's dying eyes last saw them. Walter 
never went near the room for weeks 

Of all the many photographs of Swinburne, none 
looked so much like the Algernon I knew as the 
last one he had taken. It looked so like him thai 
when he died we had this almost life-size portrait 
of him placed over the mantel-piece in our sitting- 
room. We felt it brought him nearer to us 
we sat there. 

Quite soon after his death Walter and I wen 
sitting together one evening after dinner when th( 
postman brought what I thought was a letter foi 
Walter. The contents moved him deeply, and 
noticed the tears gathering in his eyes. Turning 
to me he said, " Read this, Clara ; it's the lovelies 



thing I've ever read about dear Algernon." It 
was a poem by Alfred Noyes. I tried to read 
the lines to myself without a lump coming into 
my throat, but I failed in the attempt, and in turn 
my eyes, too, became so dim that I could hardly 
read the words. This is how the death of Swin- 
burne affected one of our finest singers : 


April from shore to shore, from sea to sea, 
April in heaven and on the springing spray 
Buoyant with birds that sing to welcome May 

And April in those eyes that mourn for thee ; 

" This is my singing month ; my hawthorn tree 
Burgeons once more," we seemed to hear thee say, 
* This is my singing month ; my fingers stray 

Over the lute. What shall the music be?" 

And April answered with too great a song 
For mortal lips to sing or hearts to hear, 

Heard only of that high invisible throng 

For whom thy song makes April all the year ! 

" My singing month, what bringest thou?" Her breath 

Swooned with all music, and she answered^-" Death." 

Some months later, when the Summer sun was 
shining brightly, Walter and I looked over a 
sparkling sea. The delight of reading out of doors 
was healing and restful, and although Walter was 
shattered in health, it was good to be alive and 



happy together. One morning he produced a book 
from his pocket, and laying it on my lap, he said, 
" This is Algernon's ' Ivanhoe ' : do you go on 
reading where he left off. We'll finish it as we sit 
here looking at the waves." There was a bookmark 
in Chapter XLI, so there was not much to read be-, 
fore the end. That lovely incident, the most thrill- 
ing in the story, the rescue of the beautiful Rebecca 
by Wilfred of Ivanhoe, is related in the final four 
chapters. I read them to Walter in a way I knew 
he would enjoy. But as I neared the end, his eyes 
looked wistfully sad, for his thoughts had flown, 
as had mine, to him who had preceded me in read- 
ing aloud from the book. Little had Walter 
anticipated when he told Algernon that I should 
not take his place, that his promise would be 
unfulfilled, and that even in this small matter of 
finishing " Ivanhoe " I should be, as in Walter's 
sick-room, "the privileged one." 

As I closed the book, I pictured the quiet grave 
near the sea at Bonchurch as I had seen it on the 
day the dear Bard was laid to rest. Walter fell t( 
talking in a dreamy, ruminating way of Algernon. 
" Dear boy, dear boy, what a splendid, lovable 
fellow he was ! I miss him dreadfully." And he 
added to himself sotto voce : " There's nobod] 
for me to talk poetry with now." It was impos- 



sible for me or anybody to fill the blank in 
Walter's life that the death of Algernon had made. 
To take up the threads of life again after such a 
tear in the web was not easy. He was even inclined 
at this time to view life as a " Long Street of 

^ombs," although he was naturally richly endowed 
with gaiety. 

I was desirous that he should regain health, and 
gather as much strength as he could, and was 
properly Opposed to the formation in him of 
any sense of obligation to sit down and begin 
writing Swinburne's " Life." The inconsiderate 
people who expected him to devote his scanty 
energy to biographical toil were not viewed by me 
with sympathy or even patience. Neither friends 
nor the public were intimately concerned with his 
personal welfare ; I was. I remember that one 
day, when a visitor began descanting on the desira- 
bility of my husband's writing Algernon's 
" Life," I cut short his eloquence by declaring, 
with frowns and scowls, that biography was mere 

Lodge, and Baedekerism, and that nobody wanted 
my more of it. Walter was highly amused by 
;< Serjeant Clara Buzfuz," as he playfully called 

ic on this occasion. I knew my little prejudiced 
)pinion was worth absolutely nothing but, never- 

icless, Walter was comforted by it and that was 



all I cared about. I got so used to snubbing 
people who asked about the unwritten " Life " by 
Watts-Dunton that Walter, with his tongue in 
his cheek, would account for its absence by saying, 
" Clara knows if she would but speak." So if 
people wonder why Watts-Dunton wrote no "Life 
of Swinburne "' let them in a measure blame 
me. Had I chosen I could at least have goaded 
him to the production of the " Life " ; but my 
understanding love for him told me that his 
strength was not great enough to justify him in 
undertaking so emotional and tiring a task. 

That Walter did wish to write such a book, I 
emphatically assert. He knew his subject from 
A to Z, but he never got further than writing 
' ' Supplemental Note ' ' to the eighteenth impres- 
sion of the " Selections from Swinburne's Poems." 
He did this aftef the Christmas of 1913, and whei 
I read his MS. a stab pierced my heart on reading 
the introductory lines and opening sentence of tht 
little article : 

Time driveth onward fast, 

And in a little while our lips are dumb. 

Let me take warning by these noble words of Tennyson 
let me remember that I may never live to write 
reminiscences of Swinburne, much as I desire to do so. 



That literature is the poorer for not possessing 
a sympathetic and complete " Life of Swinburne " 
by Watts-Dunton, is undeniable, but it is not 
likely that Swinburne would have welcomed any 
such work by anyone. It was George Meredith 
who declared, " I will horribly haunt the man who 
writes my biography." Swinburne never went as 
far as that. On the other hand, he never men- 
tioned whom he had selected to write his Life, as 
did Dante Gabriel Rossetti. But if Swinburne 
had been obliged to choose a biographer, he would 
certainly have selected Walter, the friend whom, 
he pronounced " the first critic of our time 
perhaps the largest-minded and surest-sighted of 
any age." 

It is a pretty well known fact that Rossetti 
wished Theodore Watts more than anyone else 
to write his Life. Walter used often to say to me 
when he fell to talking of this wondrous and very 
dear friend, " Gabriel told me everything," and 
I know dear Swinburne told him everything too. 
We all know that Walter could not stand far 
enough away from Rossetti to write his life, and 
that W. M. Rossetti, after waiting for years for 
Walter to produce it, assumed the role of 
biographer himself. 

Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse, says the 



proverb, but the immortal works of Rossetti and 
Swinburne will always remain without needing 
assistance from "Lives." 

It is not for me even to whisper of the place 
that Swinburne holds, and perhaps will ever hold, 
as the greatest lyrical poet of his century. Gener- 
ations yet unborn will marvel at the wliite magic 
which his poetry exerts even upon comparatively 
commonplace people. 

George Meredith, in the letter he wrote to 
Walter the last he ever penned before he passed 
away about a month after the death of Swinburne 
says : " Song was his natural voice. He was 
the greatest of our lyrical poets of the world's, I 
could say, considering what a language he had to 

For me, it is with a satisfaction not to be 
measured in words that I regard the privilege 
vouchsafed me in being able to call that simple- 
minded great English gentleman, Algernon 
Charles Swinburne, my friend. 




BRILLIANT sunshine and genial warmth had trans- 
formed our British Autumn into a gorgeous St. 
Luke's Summer. On the Sunday in October, 
1920, when I revisited Bonchurch to look at 
Swinburne's grave it was hard to believe that the 
words " Chill October " had ever been used by a 
famous painter to describe the tenth month. 
Summer blooms were absent and birds were 
silent ; but the churchyard still looked like a 
beautiful garden. 

The big crowd of people that filled it on the 
day of the poet's funeral naturally precluded the 
possibility of appreciating the beauties of the spot. 
Even had the crowd been smaller, my mournful 
feelings would have crushed any desire to take in 
the little landscape, and I was practically seeing 
it in its ensemble for the first time. As I 



approached the entrance gates, I could hear the 
notes of the church organ, for the service wi 
going on. 

Almost the first thing that attracts the visitor' 
attention on entering the churchyard is the grouj 
of graves in which members of the Swinbui 
family are buried. Enclosed behind an iron BE 
are five of these sepulchres. The stone slab 
each is distinguished by a characteristic design, 
something between a cross and an anchor, very 
much in keeping with the ideas of a sailor, and 
chosen, no doubt, by Admiral Swinburne on that 
account. Of these five graves, those of Algernon 
and Isabel are side by side, for the eldest and the 
youngest of the Admiral's children were the last 
to go. 

Beyond this group is a second one in which 
under the same kind of slabs, are the remains 
of the poet's Mother and Father, Lady Jane 
Swinburne, Admiral Swinburne, and his sister 
Edith, who was the first of the family to die. 
Personally if I may obtrude my personal 
opinion I found the plain stone that covers 
Swinburne's frail body satisfactory and suitable. 
As I looked at the simple inscription of name 
and date, I reflected that it was not the 
great poet that lay there ; it was the son of a 



patrician house. It was good to think that he 
who sang : 

I will go back to the great sweet Mother, 

Mother and lover of men, the sea. 
I will go down to her, I and none other. 

Close with her, kiss her, and mix her with me, 

slept within sound of the music of the sea he loved 
so well and so glorified in his verse, but what 
"Swinburne" stands for lives in the hearts and 
minds of the countless thousands who love the 
outpourings of his spirit. 

While I was meditating in this way, the service 
in the church ended. The little congregation 
trooped out, and I found myself addressed by a 
tall, handsome old man who identified me with the 
lady whom he had seen at Algernon's funeral. He 
was accompanied by a much younger man, his son, 
who informed me he also remembered me, having 
seen me when he called on my husband at The 
Pines. But what particularly interested me was 
the fact that all his life the elder man, a Mr. Daniel 
Day, had had dealings with the Swinburne family, 
being a sort of bailiff or agent for them. He was 
also a builder, decorator, undertaker, and I don't 
know what else. Moreover, he was one of the 
churchwardens of the Parish Church. 



The affectionate respect with which he spoke 
of the poet's family, " all dead and gone now," 
touched me deeply. When he mentioned the 
name of Lady Jane he lowered his voice in rever- 
ence. I had heard from Walter's lips of the 
effect of her death on Algernon, and as thij 
survivor reminded me of the poet's grief when sh< 
was buried, and we talked on, I could see how 
disturbed he was at the idea of Swinburne 
thought an atheist. Mr. Day, I imagine, 
little, if anything at all, of the writings of A. C. S. 
This would perhaps account for his indignatioi 
over the charge of atheism sometimes levelled 
against the writer of the " Hymn to Man." He 
had an answer to that grave charge. He assured 
me that, after the conclusion of the burial service 
of Charlotte, Algernon knelt at the graveside with 
his sisters Alice and Isabel, and prayed. That 
Swinburne knelt, I can easily believe. His innate 
chivalry and his affection for his sisters woulc 
ensure the kneeling. But what, I wonder, was 
the nature of the prayer. " I know he was nc 
atheist," reiterated Mr. Day, and when h( 
tentatively touched on " things he wrote, 
thought it kind to say that I believed Swinburne's 
agnosticism to be much like his anarchism and 
republicanism a mere literary pose. The situa- 



tion intrigued me. Here I was standing by the 
tomb of one of England's greatest poets, talking 
to a man who had known the Bard from his youth 
up, but who knew practically nothing of the life- 
work of this world-renowned singer. 

I was glad when he permitted himself to be 
switched off the vexed subject of theology. " The 
last time Mr. Swinburne came here," he continued 
" he asked me to go over the old place with him, 
and I remember when he got to the highest part 
of the cliff, he stood right on the edge looking 
out over the sea with his hat off and his hair 
blowing in the wind. He said, ' This is the most 
beautiful spot on God's earth.' Those were his 
very words. Then he began talking to himself 
and reciting a lot of poetry. He was quite a long 
time spouting away up there." My informant 
paused, then added with a smile, "If I'd have 
taken up shorthand in my young days, I might 
have had a poem all to myself ! ' Looking down 
at the grave again he declared solemnly once more, 
" No, he was no atheist." 

Mr. Day accompanied me down the quiet little 
village street. In an angle of the road he pointed 
out the exact spot where, one morning, he, came 
across the poet tenaciously sitting astride a literally 
l( prancing steed." The animal was rearing on its 



hind legs, and doing its best to throw his rider. Mr. 
Day looked on in alarm, greatly fearing for th< 
safety of the rider whom he expected every minute 
to see sprawling on the ground. 

In spite of Swinburne's splendid horsemanship, 
the inevitable occurred. One spirited plunge 
forward and the valiant rider was unseated. Poor 
Swinburne was shot out of the saddle like a shuttle- 
cock, and made to feel the uncomfortable contact 
of mother earth. Fortunately he was unhurt, an< 
instantly picking himself up, was quickly at th( 
head of the now trembling horse. Giving th( 
animal one masterful look in the eyes, he vaulted 
into the saddle, and with a cheery " Thank you, 
Mr. Day, I'm all right, but I can't have hii 
showing off here in the street, and I've taught him 
a lesson to-day, I fancy," he rode off again up th< 
hill with his now sobered steed well under control. 

I had to cut the conversation short, for I was due 
at East Dene, Swinburne's early home, which h* 
now become the seat of a religious sisterhood, the 
Convent of the Sacred Heart. A strangely 
anomalous circumstance, it seems to me, that the 
home of Swinburne's boyhood should have become 
a nunnery ! 




Lunch was given me in the refectory which, in 
iwinburne's time, was the library, by Mother 
O'Brien, the head of the establishment. I found 
her most amiable and anxious to show me all there 
was to be seen. 

I was taken over the house and grounds. What 
most impressed itself on my memory was Swin- 
burne's bedroom, a charming apartment looking 
over the sloping lawn which stretches right down 
to the sea. Standing at the window one is within 
a stone's throw of his grave. 

On my way back through the Landslip I returned 
to the grave. The Church was empty now. Not 
a soul to be seen anywhere. It was deathly still. 
The cold grey slab, the brief inscription of the 
name, brought to my mind a thousand memories 
of the man I had known and reverenced. The 
poet's own lines on the death of Barry Cornwall, 
came back to me and it seemed to me that they 
might well be inscribed over this Bonchurch grave : 

For with us shall the music and perfume that die not 

Though the dead to our dead bid welcome and we 


Now have I fulfilled the promptings of my 
heart, my fingers would fain " stray over the 



lute " ; but, alas ! I am no " instrumentalist." In 
writing these last lines my gaze involuntarily 
travels to the open doorway where I seem to see 
a familiar figure standing, and to hear, as of yore, 
the gentle tones of a well-bred Eton schoolboy's 
voice asking, " May I come in? ' :